Heartfelt tributes were paid to an ex-Whitehaven rugby star after an inquest heard he took his own life.

Devastated family members of Matthew Dalton, known as Jimmy, said he will be remembered as a “wonderful man”, who “thrived on helping and inspiring others”.

Mr Dalton, 53, was found dead in Crow Park, Whitehaven, on November 8 last year after taking nearly three times more than the lethal dose of dihydrocodeine, which is prescribed for pain relief.

He had split up with his partner Gail Lamb, who he had been in an on-off relationship with for more than 10 years, just a few months earlier.

The father-of-two and grandfather-of-four was a former Whitehaven RLFC hero and dedicated community volunteer. He was influential in setting up Starting Point in Whitehaven, where he helped people recover from drug and alcohol problems.

A family statement said: “Throughout these past few months, there has been some very dark moments, which we have all had to find our own different ways to endure.

“Thankfully, out of tragedy some good often emerges and we feel blessed to have found ourselves surrounded by such true friends.

“We will never understand why our dad did what he did, especially when he thrived on helping and inspiring others in similar situations.

“Now we have to learn to adapt to a life without this wonderful man, although his memory will always shine brightly in our thoughts. We will forever remember the wonderful times we shared with him and the deep love and affection he offered to all of his friends and family.”

The Cockermouth inquest, held by coroner Dr Nicholas Shaw, heard a statement from Dr Johan Braber which said Mr Dalton had seen Dr Tom Phillips on September 27, 2016, and reported being under “enormous stress” after his partner left him. He mentioned having “suicidal thoughts” but said he had no intention to act on them.

Dr Shaw recorded the cause of death as “mixed drug toxicity”, predominately dihydrocodeine, “with presence of coronary heart disease”. He concluded saying “he took his own life”.

In a note to his family, Mr Dalton wrote about his struggles with physical and mental illness and how the breakdown of his relationship had affected him.

The post-mortem revealed he had taken 5966ng/ml of dihydrocodeine, above the lethal range of 2000ng/ml and had “potentially toxic” levels of venlafaxine and olanzapine in his blood.

His son Drew Dalton said his father had previously “struggled with mental health”.

Mr Dalton, who worked at West Cumberland Hospital, had also suffered for years with Mediterranean fever, a painful inflammatory disorder, for which he took medication to keep under control.

On Sunday, November 6, he was reported missing by Mrs Lamb after she had been to visit his home. Family friend Mark Groggins discovered Mr Dalton’s body two days later.

Mr Dalton’s family added: “In the end you could say that he spent so much time helping others that he couldn’t be helped himself, which in our opinion is the definition of selfless.”

‘He couldn’t be helped himself.’