Page last updated at 03:06 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 04:06 UK

Tests due in poison farmer case

Bob Dearnley
A friend said Bob Dearnley was the most "gentle" man he knew

Post-mortem tests are due to take place later on a farmer who apparently killed himself with rat poison as he faced being evicted from his home.

Bob Dearnley died after breathing a toxic substance at Burpham Court Farm, in Guildford, Surrey, on Thursday.

Seven police officers taken to hospital after they were exposed to the poison were released later.

A friend of Mr Dearnley said he had been "screaming for help" as he faced legal action over his debts.

Mr Dearnley, who was in his 50s and was arrested on Monday after a disturbance at the property, was made bankrupt after losing a court case against the National Trust.

It's all a dreadful mess and we will perhaps never know the truth
Gilbert McKie

Neighbour and friend, Gilbert McKie, 55, confirmed he had accrued vast debts but insisted he .was the most "gentle" man he knew

Mr McKie said: "The only person he would hurt was himself."

He said the council had let Mr Dearnley down, adding: "He was screaming for help but it just kept getting worse.

"Now he's gone the farm will probably get taken over by the National Trust - it's all a dreadful mess and we will perhaps never know the truth."

Mr Dearnley was due to leave the farm last year, but had refused to vacate the premises.

The farmer was declared bankrupt in 2006 after losing the court case against the Trust about the opening of a weir.

'Declined offer'

He was ordered to pay a reported £100,000 and told to leave his farm by last September.

A spokeswoman from Guildford Council said: "We were sorry to hear the sad news of an incident and the subsequent death at Burpham Court Farm."

Giving details of Mr Dearnley's court battle, the spokeswoman added: "Following a series of unsuccessful litigations against his principal creditor the National Trust and Guildford Borough Council, Burpham Court Farm tenant Mr Dearnley was declared bankrupt in 2006.

"In September 2007, the Trustee in Bankruptcy, acting on behalf of the tenants, gave the council notice that they would leave the farm in September 2008. As the tenants hadn't left the farm on the stated date the council started possession proceedings."

Police at farm
Police officers were called to the farm on Thursday

Mr Dearnley, who ran the site with his wife, had developed the farm as a conservation centre and tourist attraction.

A National Trust spokeswoman added: "Throughout this case the National Trust offered Mr Dearnley a number of opportunities to reach a mutually acceptable settlement, but he repeatedly declined to take up the offer.

"The cost to the National Trust of defending this case was considerable, and the National Trust therefore had to seek repayment of those costs from Mr Dearnley, to avoid its conservation work suffering through the loss of those funds."

Surrey Police confirmed Mr Dearnley had been arrested on suspicion of affray. He had not been charged.

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