A FORMER teacher took his own life because he was afraid people would find out he was gay, an inquest heard.

Clive Richards, who was prominent in the local music and theatre scene, was found dead at his home in Stratfield Road, Oakridge, on Sunday, February 17.

The 67-year-old former PE teacher at The Vyne School, Basingstoke, had hanged himself the day before he was due to appear in court after being charged with an indecency offence.

On the first day of proceedings, the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence.

Mr Richards was a leading light in Basingstoke Male Voice Choir and a key member of Basingstoke Amateur Operatic Society and Basingstoke Rugby Football Club.

Les Graddon, a long-time friend, told the inquest, at Basingstoke and Deane Civic Offices, that at the beginning of February, Mr Richards had told him he had been having gay relationships.

He also admitted he had been charged with an indecency offence in a public place.

Mr Graddon explained: "He told me things had been said about him that weren't true and he had to go to court.

"He wasn't concerned about the outcome of the court case. He was more concerned that the fact he was homosexual was going to come out in the press.

"He was absolutely terrified."

Mr Graddon told the court he had asked Mr Richards why he had not told him he was gay before and said Mr Richards told him it was because he was "ashamed".

He added: "I am certain that if this court case had been stopped, he would be alive today."

The inquest heard Mr Graddon believed his friend, whom he had known for 33 years, was "at grave risk of suicide" and had been checking on him.

Mr Graddon was due to meet Mr Richards for lunch on Sunday, February 17, but when he went round to his house, he found Mr Richards hanging from a beam in the roof.

He said Mr Richards had left all his affairs clearly labelled on the dining room table, which included letters to friends and family.

His Basingstoke Male Voice Choir uniform was also laid out, ready to be returned.

Andrew Bradley, coroner for North East Hampshire, said notes left by Mr Richards clearly reflected he was worried about the stigma attached to his sexuality.

"He was of an age where it would have been of great significance to him," he said.

The coroner added: "I am certain that he found himself charged with an offence of indecency and found that unacceptable and intolerable, and he couldn't face the public reaction to that."

Mr Bradley said there may have been some stigma attached to the offence, but "it seems it was his sexuality that caused him the problem".

Recording a verdict of suicide, with the cause of death identified as asphyxiation, Mr Bradley said: "He will be a very significant loss to the people of Basingstoke.

"He was a great contributor and he will be very much missed."