A founder of multi-million pound business ghd took his own life after he was treated with anti-depressants and other drugs for anxiety and insomnia, a coroner has ruled.

At an inquest into the death of Ilkley-based Martin Penny, 63, his family described their concerns about how his condition had deteriorated as he was prescribed a number of different drugs.

His sister Barbara Penny told the Harrogate inquest: “He had anxiety all his life. He had never talked about suicide ever until he took those drugs. I have never seen him in that state ever.”

Mr Penny’s wife Diana found him hanging in the master bedroom of their home in Denton on June 18 last year.


He founded the ghd business with two friends Gary Douglas and Robert Powls, a former Keighley hairdresser, in 2001 after already creating Bradford-based environmental consultancy firm OHS.

Mr Powls came across the ceramic hair straightening irons on a business trip to America and, having renamed them ghd (Good Hair Day), the trio started the business from Mr Powls’s Ilkley home and took the UK hairdressing industry by storm.

Ghd moved to offices in Silsden and grew quickly into a worldwide sensation, boasting Madonna, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow among those who used its products. In 2008 Mr Penny was said to be worth £80 million.

Over the years Mr Penny bought his partners out and took on new partners but was eventually forced out and embarked on a three-year court battle which cost the couple millions of pounds, Mrs Penny said in a written statement. In January 2018 he became worried about their finances.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: York Coroner Rob TurnbullYork Coroner Rob Turnbull

In 2016 Mr Perry was reportedly still worth £50m but he was still the owner of OHS when it went into administration at the beginning of 2017 and he resigned as director of OHS and numerous other companies in June 2018.

The hearing heard he was prescribed anti-depressants by a GP - although he only took two because he was concerned about their effects. He was later prescribed an alternative antidepressant as well as other medication by a private psychiatrist.

His condition deteriorated and in March 2018 he was admitted to hospital after becoming “manic”.

He underwent a number of tests and was treated with anti-viral drugs and antibiotics as well as anti-psychotic drugs. His discharge notes said he had serotonin syndrome - a rare condition which may be brought on by the use of medicines that increase levels of serotonin in the brain.

The inquest heard he was greatly improved and a “changed man” after his treatment in hospital. He later went on holiday to France where he slept well and returned to his usual self.

But Mrs Penny said he told her on June 17 that he had tried to hang himself. He later went for a walk and tried to drown himself. On the morning of June 18 she found him hanging.

Dr Mark French, from Ilkley Moor medical practice, told the inquest an anti-depressant was prescribed for anxiety. It is believed Mr Penny only took two tablets before deciding to stop the medication. He was later prescribed another anti-depressant as well as other medication by private consultant psychiatrist Dr John Nehaul.

Dr Nehaul told the inquest Mr Penny had scored 21 out of 21 on an anxiety scale and 20 out of 21 on a scale measuring depression. He said: “He was very worried that he was going to go bankrupt because there were problems with a property he had bought. He felt he had made mistakes buying that property.”

Mrs Penny told the inquest she was concerned that mood altering drugs had been prescribed that could influence her husband’s relationship with his family. I felt that I was not adequately prepared for the effect of these drugs,” she said. “I was not counselled what to look for and how to react.”

Mrs Penny also claimed she was not warned that her husband could go into a period of depressive decline after leaving hospital. She said she was told to call 999 if he became acutely ill.

Coroner Rob Turnbull recorded a verdict of suicide.

He said Mrs Penny had raised the issue of whether medication had played a part in her husband’s death - but that according to medical evidence there was no way of testing in advance to see what effect a particular drug might have on an individual.

He said he shared her concerns about the medication but added: “They may have had an effect but we cannot say that they did.”