Coroner says Freshfields associate death was accidental

The Southwark coroner delivered a verdict of accidental death in the case of Matthew Courtney, the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer associate who fell to his death at the Tate Modern gallery in February.

The coroner said today (15 May) that there was insufficient evidence to rule that Courtney, 27, committed suicide, which was the intimation of several media reports at the time. Courtney was an IP/IT associate at Freshfields, qualifying in 2006.

Courtney’s father, George Courtney, gave testimony at today’s hearing about his son, including the fact that he had suffered from depression at university.

Freshfields was unaware of Courtney’s depression, which occurred some six years before his death.

No one from Freshfields had to give testimony at the hearing, but the solicitor who shared a room with Courtney at Freshfields had previously spoken with the police. He had told police that Courtney left Freshfields’ Fleet Street offices at around 9.15pm on the evening of 9 February. Courtney died instantly from head and chest injuries when he fell from a stairwell leading to the seventh-floor restaurant at the Tate Modern later that evening.

There was press speculation that Courtney had killed himself because of stress through overwork.

Although he was working on two deals at the time of his death, one of which was about to close, the firm refutes the figure of “16 hours a day, seven days a week” that was given in several press articles.

His hours between October and February averaged around 40 chargeable hours a week (50 as chargeable and non-chargeable), with this rising to 60 in the weeks before his death, comparable to many of his peers.

There will be a memorial service for Courtney in the summer, which Freshfields will assist the family in arranging.

A firm statement read: “Matthew Courtney was an excellent lawyer with great potential. He began working at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in November 2002 as a paralegal and qualified as a solicitor in September 2006. He was engaging and popular. Matthew will be greatly missed by all who worked with him. Our deepest condolences go to Matthew’s parents, family and friends.”