A PENSIONER funding a friend’s gambling habit pleaded for money to pay a loan shark just days before taking his own life.

David Hackman, 74, of Hythe Road in Old Town, Swindon, was reduced to a desperate state after being “swindled” by a young man who had moved into his home, an inquest in Salisbury heard yesterday.

He jumped from the third floor of Islington Street car park in Swindon after walking out of Great Western Hospital following an earlier suicide attempt.

He told friends he had given thousands of pounds to Vito Mazzatto, who has not been located by police.

The case led to changes at the hospital after it emerged the well-known but lonely pensioner had slipped out of a ward unnoticed, an inquest heard.

Paul Willoughby, a guest house manager, described how his friend of 30 years had begged him for financial help in June last year.

Mr Willloughby said in a statement: “David said there was a man living at his home and he wanted him out.

“He didn’t want to go back to his house while he was there. I asked him who the man was, he said it was a man by the name of Vito Mazzatto.

“I asked David if he wanted me and my son to go to the house and get the man out.

“David was against this idea. I asked him if he wanted the man out, David said he did but he didn’t want any aggravation.

“The man had a gambling habit and he had him in the house as a lodger.”

Mr Willoughby’s evidence was read by David Ridley, senior coroner for Swindon and Wiltshire, at Salisbury Coroner’s Court.

Mr Willoughby said: “He was always going on about the money he owed to the loan shark and he didn’t know what to do.

“I told David he could seek legal help.”

The retired production worker, who had no history of depression, was reduced to begging during one meeting with his friend.

Mr Willoughby said: “David was on his knees, his hands clasped together over his head. He was in the begging position.

“He asked me for £1,500. He sounded desperate for money. He said there must be a way for me to get the money for him.

“I told him several times I couldn’t get the money for him. He wouldn’t tell me what it was for despite me asking him.”

Mr Hackman also turned to Tony Niester, a former outreach worker for homeless charity Threshold Housing Link.

Mr Niester said in his statement: “He had to pay a debt collector on behalf of Vito every week and this week he hadn’t done it. He was anxious to tell me he had done something wrong.

“I told him it wasn’t his fault and I would help him out as much as I could.”

Mr Hackman was considered fairly wealthy by friends who regarded him as an old-fashioned gentleman.

But Pauline Van Der Sanden had grown suspicious of his friendship with Mr Mazzatto after meeting the pair in a cafe at the Co-op, in Old Town, where the young man sat at a different table while they chatted.

Mr Ridley, reading the housewife’s statement, said: “She found the whole set-up strange. He appeared to be keeping an eye on us.

“He wasn’t talking. After a short time she left the Co-op a little bit confused about the male friend.

“But David was happy and contented, he said the male friend was wonderful.”

Mr Hackman moved into a bed and breakfast and then a friend’s house after leaving the home left to him by his parents.

He was admitted to A&E on June 23 last year after taking an up to 32 paracetamol pills.

The former Plessey worker told staff that he was being “swindled” by Mr Mazzatto, according to evidence read by Mr Ridley.

The following day he twice wandered off from an ambulatory unit, but was found and was happy to return to the ward.

Staff noted that he seemed upset and agitated but slept well and seemed content despite being classed ‘high risk’.

Doors were locked as a precaution after he walked out but a release button by the side of the exit could still be operated by patients.

Lisa Quinn, a community support worker for Avon and Wiltshire NHS Mental Health Partnership, said Mr Hackman had been open about the overdose during an assessment and said he would not repeat the attempt.

Mr Hackman walked out unnoticed on June 25 after the doors were unlocked and took a bus into the town centre, where he headed to the car park in Islington Street.

Police were only notified by their control room that Mr Hackman was missing at 1.16pm – more than an hour after he had left the hospital. An investigation was undertaken into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy but Mr Mazzatto was never located.

The hospital has issued staff on the ward with swipe cards for the doors so they can control patients going in and out. Staffing, procedures and protocols involved in reporting missing patients to the police have all been reviewed.

Mr Ridley recorded a verdict of suicide.