Inquest held into death of former Mirror editor Peter Willis

Inquest held into death of former Mirror editor and Pride of Britain Awards founder Peter Willis

Peter Willis Mirror man Pride of Britain

Mirror executive editor and Pride of Britain founder Peter Willis was “anxious” about being made redundant ahead of his death last June, an inquest has heard.

Willis, who died aged 54 on 25 June last year, had suffered a relapse of the “severe” depression he first fought through about five years earlier following the death of his father.

Willis was due to be admitted to the London mental health clinic Nightingale Hospital on the day of his death but instead fell to his death from an upstairs window of his Islington home.

An inquest held on Tuesday at St Pancras Coroner’s Court concluded that he had intended to kill himself following a “very significant episode of depression”.

Assistant coroner Jonathan Stevens said it was “such a shame” Willis had not appreciated how well he was respected in the journalism community before his death. A tribute in The Mirror after his death described him as “a man who never understood how loved he was”.

Stevens said: “Peter was clearly a very successful and highly regarded journalist and I am aware there has been much outpouring of concern and distress following his passing and it is just such a shame that he did not realise just how much he was loved and respected in his profession because that of course is one of the things that depression does – it deprives you of being able to see things in the way that you would normally do.”

Willis became group executive editor at Mirror owner Reach and director of the Pride of Britain Awards, which he founded, in 2020.

Between 2018 and 2020 he edited the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People but changed roles as the newspapers moved to a seven-day operation led by Alison Phillips. Before that Willis was editor of the Daily Mirror for six years.

In total he spent 23 years at the Mirror, which he first joined as launch editor of Saturday supplement The Look in 1997.

Reading statements from healthcare workers who assessed Willis in the days before his death, Stevens said the journalist was experiencing “depression exacerbated by imminent redundancy from his job”.

A nurse said Willis had told her “his mental state was low and he had been struggling for about a year since he had been made aware of a possible redundancy at his employment and he was worried about not being able to provide for his family”.

According to GP Dr Hilary Mulvihill, who Willis had called soon before his death to say his mood had deteriorated: “He was anxious about what was going to happen with his job coming to an end.”

The inquest heard that Willis went missing for about five days, a week before his death, during which time he had suicidal thoughts.

He later told health workers that he had wanted to return home after one day but felt more “ashamed” by his actions the longer his absence went on.

He also said his suicidal thoughts decreased after his return home, the inquest heard. He initially opted to stay at home for treatment.

Willis was reluctant to be admitted to hospital as he found a previous admission in 2018 “very traumatic”, the inquest heard. However he did accept that he would receive better treatment and  support if he were admitted, and had bags packed ready to travel to the hospital on the day of his death.

Camden and Islington NHS Trust Foundation produced a serious incident report following his death, as is routine when a patient unexpectedly dies. “They did identify that when Peter had disappeared for five days there should have been consideration given for hospital admission at that point because of his compulsive behaviours,” coroner Stevens said.

Stevens added that the report had found that community care, meaning at home rather than in hospital, was “not sufficient enough to safeguard Peter”.

Tributes to Willis flooded in after his death in June. Prince Charles, who knew Willis through his work with Pride of Britain, said: “He never shied away from telling the difficult stories of young people who had struggled with drugs, homelessness, imprisonment or mental health issues and managed to turn their lives around. The positive impact of telling their stories will be a significant part of his legacy.”

Former Mirror editor Piers Morgan, who worked with Willis on The Sun’s Bizarre column, described him as a “brilliant journalist, a loving husband and father, and a loyal, decent, kind and caring friend of mine for 30 years” while Sun editor Victoria Newton said he had been a “brilliant story-getter and a kind, much-loved colleague”.

  • Samaritans is available to provide support for those struggling with depression by calling 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visiting www.samaritans.org
  • The Journalists’ Charity provides grants for journalists in dire financial need

Picture: Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

SIGN UP HERE FOR

FUTURE OF MEDIA

Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.