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Tragic death of the only senior woman on a deal team after 18-hour days

The record for the inquest of Vanessa Ford, who was known at work as Vanessa Heap, is brutally short. The immediate cause of death was "multiple traumatic injuries," said the London coroner on February 26th. 

The proximate cause of death, however, was more complicated. Writing on the Record of Ford's inquest, the coroner said:

"On 23 September 2023, Vanessa Ford consumed a significant amount of alcohol while undergoing an acute mental health crisis. She accessed the wall of the Dalston Lane road bridge and allowed herself to drop onto the railway tracks below, where she was later struck by a train. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that she intended to take her own life."

Ford, who was 47-years-old and lived in Hackney, London, left a husband and two school-age sons. She died after working 18-hour days at law firm Pinsent Masons on 777 Partners' acquisition of Everton Football club. The day before her death, the inquest heard that Ford travelled to Manchester for a celebratory lunch to mark the deal. She ended up staying the night with Everton director Katie Charles before returning to London at 7am, when her husband and children were out of the house. 

Ford's death has rocked the legal community, but stands as a tragic warning of the mental health problems that can afflict anyone working what her husband described as "all-consuming hours." 

Hours after Ford's death, at 1.44pm on the 23rd, Pinsent Mason's published a press release announcing the successful completion of the Everton deal. In it, Ford said she was "delighted" to have helped Everton secure the translation. The senior members of the Pinsent Mason's deal team - Ford's fellow partners Julian Diaz-Rainey, Tom Leman and James Kaye, were all men. 

Other senior figures staffed on the deal were men too. Everton owner Farhad Moshiri was advised by Robert Howells, a corporate finance director at Deloitte. Howells' team comprised of four other men. 777 Partners was advised by Tifosy Capital and Advisory, a boutique firm founded by former Morgan Stanley executive director, Fausto Zanetton, whose employees comprise 13 men and one woman, according to its website. 

Writing on LinkedIn, Matt Morgan, Pinsent Masons' head of financing, said Ford was a "consummate professional," and "an intelligent and warm individual who was a dedicated and loving mother to her children and a good friend to so many of us." Speaking at the inquest, Morgan said the Everton deal was a “once-in-a-few-years transaction.” Ford seemed happy with the deal. She said it was “the best work she’d ever done,” Morgan added. Like most employers, Pinsent Masons provided a 24-hour-mental health helpline; Ford didn't use it.

Associating Ford's death with her gender may be trite: 18-hour-days are grueling for anyone. But her presence as the only senior woman in a sea of men is notable. As a woman in her late 40s, it's been observed that Ford may well have been menopausal. Her father had died the previous year, and the inquest heard she hadn't had to grieve fully. Her husband said she'd been drinking more since June. Like many women, Ford was cramming life in. She was “good at everything,” her husband added: at her job, as a mother helping at her children's parties, and as a friend with a busy social life. Ultimately, it was too much. On International Women's Day, it's a reminder to people of all genders: be gentle with yourselves.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Do
    7 March 2024

    A very tragic case indeed and my sympathies are with the family, especially the children who will probably never recover fully from the loss of their mother.

    Mental health issues, and suicide in particular, are very complex matters. It is probably an oversimplification to attribute the cause in this case to long working hours, or gender. In fact, the overwork or attempts to excel at everything are more likely symptoms of a problem rather than the cause.

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