UCL professor Jon Driver killed himself as he struggled with fears he would lose his job

14:00 05 April 2012

Professor Jonathon Driver

Professor Jonathon Driver

Archant

A world renowned neuroscientist killed himself by jumping off Archway Bridge after struggling with a debilitating knee injury he feared would leave him jobless.

Professor Jonathon Driver, 49, was an expert in cognitive neuroscience based at UCL, and one of just six scientists across the world with a Royal Society Anniversary Research Professorship – a coveted post held by many Nobel Prize winners.

But he was left in constant pain after dislocating his knee in a motorbike accident in January last year.

Prof Driver, of Sandringham Gardens in Crouch End, began struggling to cope with his academic work, and grew concerned he was becoming a burden to his young family.

“I’ve known Jon for 20 years and I’d never, ever seen him depressed or down before the accident,” his wife Professor Nilli Lavie, told an inquest into his death on Monday (April 2).

“He was a very energetic, positive doer of a person, there was a lot of life force in him.”

But St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard how his energy turned to despair as his injuries prevented the father-of-two from returning to work or coaching his son’s football club.

Prof Lavie, who worked alongside her husband at UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: “There was a period when he couldn’t sleep for three weeks. During those sleepless nights he would go over and over the accident in his mind.

“His work depended on his intellectual ability. It was clear to Jon that he wouldn’t be able to manage the expectations as a Royal Society professor.

“He was a very honest person, if he was not able to fulfil those expectations he would withdraw from the appointment.

“But he feared he would become jobless. He felt he would not be able to get any job interviews because it was clear he was in so much pain.”

Blinking back tears as she relived her husband’s final months, she added: “He could see the burden it placed on me. I had to keep my job, play the role of two parents to the kids and look after him as well.”

Prof Driver underwent two operations to increase his knee mobility, but developed intense neuropathic pain in his right leg.

During the summer the neuroscientist was diagnosed with depression, insomnia and post traumatic stress disorder, and placed on antidepressants.

His wife grew increasingly alarmed at her husband’s mental state the weekend before his death on November 28 last year, after he confided he had considered killing himself.

Worried his state had reached a crisis point, Prof Lavie desperately called his psychiatrist to discuss putting her husband on suicide watch.

But Prof Driver had taken matters into his own hands and plunged the 60ft from Archway Bridge in Highgate at 12.30pm on November 28. He died of multiple injuries at the scene.

Deputy coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe ruled that Prof Driver killed himself.

She said: “He was such a highly functioning individual who clearly understood what he was doing.”

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