Millionaire behind GHD hair straighteners hanged himself after becoming manic over bankruptcy fears, inquest hears

Martin Penny, 63, was found hanging in the master bedroom of his home in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, by his wife on June 18 last year

The multimillionaire co-founder of the supremely popular Good Hair Day (GHD) hair straighteners killed himself after he was treated with anti-depressants and other drugs for anxiety and insomnia, an inquest has heard.

Father-of-two, Martin Penny, 63, was found hanging in the master bedroom of his home in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, by his wife on June 18 last year, according to the Telegraph & Argus.

At the Harrogate inquest into his death, his family revealed that he had growing concerns about going bankrupt and was suffering from insomnia and anxiety. They said his condition worsened after he was prescribed a number of drugs.

Penny had founded the GHD business with two friends, Gary Douglas and Robert Powls, in 2001 after Powls came across ceramic hair straightening irons during a business trip to the US and the trio purchased the rights to hair straightening irons from a South Korean inventor.

The business took off, and by the end of the second year, revenues stood at close to $15 million. Penny spearheaded the growth of the company, including expansion with a range of hair care products, and by the end of the third year, the revenue turnover was $45 million. In 2008, he was worth $98 million.

By the time the company was 10 years old, it boasted of a $178 million turnover and had names such as Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow using its products.

But things began taking a turn for the worse when he was forced out of the company and got involved in a three-year court battle that ended up costing him millions of dollars, said his wife Diana in a written statement.

In 2017, OHS, a Bradford-based environmental consultancy firm that he founded before GHD, went into administration. A year later, he had to resign from his position as director.

The inquest heard that he was prescribed anti-depressants by a general practitioner, as well as an alternative anti-depressant and other medications by a private psychiatrist.

That psychiatrist, Dr. John Nehaul, told the inquest that the 63-year-old had scored 21 out of 21 on an anxiety scale and 20 out of 21 on a scale measuring depression.

"He was very worried that he was going to go bankrupt because there were problems with a property he had bought," Nehaul revealed. "He felt he had made mistakes buying that property."

However, his condition continued to deteriorate, and in March 2018, he was admitted to a hospital after becoming "manic."

He underwent a number of tests and was treated with anti-viral and antipsychotic drugs, as well as antibiotics. He was also found to suffer from serotonin syndrome, a rare condition which may be brought by medicines which increase the level of serotonin in the brain.

He appeared to be a "changed man", but three months later, he tried to kill himself.

Diana revealed that her husband told her on June 17, one day before his death, that he had tried to hang himself. She said he also confessed to going on a walk and trying to drown himself. 

"He had anxiety all his life," said his sister Barbara Penny. "He had never talked about suicide ever until he took those drugs. I have never seen him in that state ever."

Coroner Rob Turnbull noted that Diana had raised the issue of whether the medication had played a part in her husband's death but said that, according to medical evidence, there was no way of testing in advance to see what effect a particular drug may have on an individual.

He said he shared her concerns about the medication but that he could not say for sure that it played a part in Penny's death. He ultimately recorded a verdict of suicide.

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