THE man who died after he became trapped upside down on top of Dixon’s Chimney in Carlisle scaled the structure with the intention of taking his own life, an inquest heard.

Robert Philip Longcake, known as Phil to his family and friends, took the perilous decision to scale the iconic 290ft former mill chimney using a ladder shortly after 5.30pm on October 27 last year.

Family liaison officer PC Williams outlined that CCTV gathered by police showed Phil had been driving round the area in his transit van at about 4.15pm.

Little more than an hour later he was seen walking down an alleyway and going into the (chimney) compound with ladders, locking them against the chimney, before beginning to climb.

She outlined Phil’s internet search history, which the coroner said seemed to show a degree of planning.

Phil’s girlfriend at the time, Heather Wilson, told the hearing the 53-year-old had attempted to end his life twice in recent months - the second was just a week before his tragic death.

The inquest heard of a history of mental health problems, centred on alleged childhood sexual abuse and problems with separation from his estranged wife Andrea Longcake.

Cumbria police’s investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse was later dropped, as officers were unable to find enough evidence to prosecute.

Doctor Rania Mansour, who was Phil’s GP at Dalston Medical Group in Dalston, said her patient had also attempted to overdose on September 1 (check).

Andrea Longcake described the history of her estranged husband’s life, saying he went to Silloth Primary School and then Solway Community School.

He had later go on to work at a garage at weekends, before spending a short time at Carlisle College, “he basically walked in and walked out again”, she said.

Following a short time at Carlisle College he then went on to work at Yates, before having jobs at Wigton Cemetery and Carlisle Crematorium - where he was working at the time of his death.

“In April he started what seemed like a mid-life crisis, where he wanted something but didn’t know what he wanted,” explained Mrs Longcake.

While an investigation was ongoing into the allegation of sexual abuse against Phil during the ages of six and 15, he attempted a tablets overdose.

The grandfather had been receiving regular and ongoing mental health support up to his death, the hearing heard.

In the minutes leading up to Phil’s decision to scale the chimney, Mrs Longcake described how he had picked up the family dog in a way that resembled “goodbye”.

During the visit, he also referred to his estranged wife as “Moo”, a term he had formally used when they were together - something Mrs Longcake thought was odd.

Just minutes before his decision to scale the chimney, Phil visited the family home on Dalston Road in Carlisle.

“He seemed like he was on a mission, like he had somewhere to go and something to do,” she explained.

“Don’t worry about money, you will be fine,” he told her.

As he left, she suspected something was wrong and called their son Robert, who also sensed something wasn’t right following an earlier phone conversation.

It was at this point, along with Phil’s daughter Laura they began to search for their loved one. They called Phil’s girlfriend at the time Heather Wilson, who confirmed she was expecting him but did not know where he was.

After unsuccessful attempts to find him, they contacted police.

“I knew he was going to do something stupid,” Mrs Longcake told the hearing.

The family were contacted by officers at about 1am the following morning informing them that Phil’s phone had been tracked to the Denton Holme area of Carlisle.

“Over the last six years we had been more like best mates,” Robert said of his father.

“We talked about things a father and son wouldn’t talk about.

“After the last incident he said he was over that sort of thing i.e. killing himself.”

Robert told the hearing he knew his father had been struggling.

“He had struggled over the last few months after opening up about being abused,” he explained.

“He had told me it was always on his mind and he couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

In the days leading up to his death, Phil had placed the key into the ignition of his motorbikes, an act that his family said he wouldn’t have normally taken and one that showed an element of planning for the aftermath of his death.

“We thought he put the keys in so we knew what was what,” Robert explained.

Heather Wilson had known Phil since February and the pair had been in a relationship prior to his death.

She told the inquest she too had noticed a change in Phil’s mood, something he told her was due to worries about his former family home and about finances.

Carlisle Crematorium work colleague Amanda Linden said Phil had often confided in her at work, including about his two previous attempts to take his own life.

“He said he had even looked at Dixon’s Chimney before,” she told the inquest.

“He said he was alright now.”

Describing her friend, she said: “He is a huge miss. I will always remember him as the lovely man he was.”

Peter Watson, another colleague of Phil, said his friend had talked of jumping on the motorway, but said, “he didn’t want to end up like roadkill”.

“He felt he had hurt people he loved most by coming out (about the historic abuse). He said he had been an arse to live with and he said his head was a mess.”

Mr Watson also noticed something wasn’t right about his workmate.

The inquest heard how between the hours of 11pm and 2am, several staff at the Royal Mail Delivery Office opposite Dixon’s Chimney had heard a groaning sound coming from an unknown direction.

Shortly after 2am they contacted Cumbria Constabulary, who had already began their search for Phil when they were called by his family earlier in the evening.

After searching the grounds of Carlisle Crematorium and the homes of Heather Wilson and Andrea Longcake, officers traced Phil’s phone to the Denton Holme area, where they then began to focus their search.

During the search one officer saw a figure at the top of Dixon’s Chimney. Using high-powered torches, they saw that Phil was hanging upside down.

The inquest heard how he could have gained access to the chimney either by entering through an insecure wooden gate, or he could have climbed over a wall.

Unable to ascertain how Phil was attached to the chimney, officers decided it was not safe to try and climb the ladder themselves.

After learning of Phil’s history of mental health problems, a negotiator was deployed to the scene.

By this point the rescue was a multi-agency response, including police, fire, mountain rescue and coastguard. Shortly before 7am it was agreed a helicopter rescue may be the best option.

After periods of non-movement, Phil’s last visible movement was just after 8am. The coroner, Dr Nicholas Shaw, said it was likely at this point Phil had passed away.

Contact was maintained with Phil via a fire service hydraulic platform.

As time passed, Phil’s interactions with the police negotiator were becoming fewer and fewer.

The hearing was told how numerous attempts at rescuing Phil via helicopter had proven unsuccessful, as the strong downwind was seen as a potential hazard which could knock Phil off the chimney, as he was attached to the ladder by only his boot.

It was then decided a cherry picker must be acquired to carry out the rescue, which arrived on scene at 2pm following logistical problems.

Police inspector Craig Lory, who was the bronze commander during the rescue, said: “Every effort was made to reach him.You replay it in your head, could we have done better, could we have got the cherry picker sooner – those are two things that go through my mind.”

He said it was his “honestly held belief” emergency services did everything they could.

When the cherry picker arrived on scene specialist firefighters from Lancashire managed to lower Phil down onto the cherry picker using an anchor system.

The cherry picker was then lowered down to the ground to waiting paramedics.

He was pronounced dead at 4.46pm on October 28 following a rescue lasting more than 14 hours.

Delivering a narrative verdict, used as an alternative to a verdict as the coroner was unable to say with certainty that his death was due to suicide, Dr Nicholas Shaw said: “The death was due to inverted suspension. He deliberately put himself in a position of extreme peril with the intention of taking his own life.

“It is unclear whether he took the ultimate step or he slipped and fell accidentally.”

The cause of death was recorded as hypothermia and cerebral swelling due to inverted suspension.