Broke inventor killed himself without knowing his last product was hailed ‘best hand dryer in the world’
A bankrupt inventor threw himself in front of a train without realising his final product had been hailed a world-beater, an inquest heard yesterday.
Peter Williams, 63, created the Vortex hand dryer which is now being marketed by former Apprentice TV star Syed Ahmed.
But he struggled with heavy debts and died months before his device was praised by Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most energy efficient hand dryer.
A coroner heard how Mr. Williams, from Langford, Beds., fell ill with diabetes in 1993 and had become unable to work.
He was declared bankrupt in February 2007 and his finances were put in the hands of trustees.
He failed to pay his council tax for ten years and ran up arrears and legal debts of £70,000 at the time of his death in February 2012.
Three years earlier the SAVortex company who were developing the dryer told the council Mr Williams had been working for them unpaid for two years.
They said at some point he would be paid but gave no firm commitment on dates.
Richard Harris, on behalf of the company, told Central Bedfordshire Council the inventor was a ‘vulnerable adult’ and unable to deal with their “harassment” and his bankruptcy should be annulled.
A council finance official told the coroner they had made several attempts to help Mr Williams.
The council also denied they were ever told that Mr Williams had been suffering from depression, and added that he never made himself known to the social services.
James Tomlinson, the council’s former revenue manager, added: “I also saw him on television with Duncan Bannatyne and Syed Ahmed and he seemed in good health and not a vulnerable man.”
Martin Oldham, the deputy coroner for Bedfordshire, heard how baliffs attended Mr. Williams’ home more than eight times over the years but found nothing of value to seize.
The coroner was told that day before he died SAVortex offered to pay £1,000 a month towards Mr. Williams’ debts but their offer was refused.
He died in front of a train at Biggleswade, Beds in February 2012.
Mr Ahmed was runner-up in The Apprentice in series two in 2006.
He invested £20,000 of his own cash in the hand dryer and his enterprise was followed in a Sky One documentary called ‘Syed Ahmed – Hot Air?’
Peter took his own life on the day he was due to be evicted from his four-bed home in Langford, Beds., where he had lived for 30 years, for not paying his council tax.
Chief Executive of Central Bedfordshire Council Richard Carr, who joined the the council in 2009, gave evidence on behalf of the late Mr Tomlinson.
Deputy Coroner for Bedfordshire Martin Oldham asked him: “He was a man who was a secluded boffin, who didn’t understand the system.
“Would you say the system failed him?”
Mr Carr claimed the council were following their legal requirements to collect the council tax and that Mr Williams had made no contact with social services.
Mike O’Brien QC, representing Mr Williams’ family, questioned whether suitable attempts to monitor Peter Williams’ health were put in place.
He said: “Mr Williams rang your office and said “You won’t get me out of this house alive”, and nobody thought that was a cause for concern?
Mr Carr stated: “I think there are degrees of vulnerability. I don’t think from what I have seen the council was ever made aware of how vulnerable he was.
“There were no letters from a GP backing up his claims. Mr Williams was able to project the impression that he was a very stable man.”
The court heard how when Mr Williams’ home was searched after his death, letters from the council remained unopened on his desk for more than 10 years.
The inquest continues and is set to last up to five days.