Recession to blame for 'party bus' driver's death, claim family

He was a larger than life character who brought fun to the lives of hundreds of people.

But father-of-five John Emson took his own life after his taxi firm Solonites started to collapse.

The recession had taken its toll on the 37-year-old's business and he was found hanged at Racton Monument, a 237-year-old ruined tower near Emsworth.

His family and friends today told The News of their devastation after his death, which has prompted tributes from hundreds of people who experienced his fun-loving taxi rides.

His partner, Claire Dempster, said the Solonites party bus was John's pride and joy and he had had it fitted with televisions, stereos, disco lights and PlayStations.

He even filmed partygoers, many on stag or hen parties, and posted the footage for them on the internet site YouTube. But the cracks started to show last year when bookings dried up.

Ms Dempster, 34, of Farringdon Road, West Leigh, Havant, said: 'It became very difficult for him and we had debts mounting up.

'He felt like it was all his fault.

'He felt like he had let down me and his children.'

Even when bookings for the mini-bus returned earlier this summer – and John even had to turn clients away – he could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.

'People said it would get better, but he just couldn't see it,' said Ms Dempster.

She added: 'Some days I am OK. Other days I just lie on the kitchen floor crying my eyes out.'

An inquest into his death in Chichester was told that Mr Emson had suffered depression and often had mood swings.

On July 17 he had a row with Ms Dempster and left their home without saying where he was going.

Later that day, at around 9pm, his body was found by a couple who were out for a walk. No note was found.

John leaves behind his daughters with Ms Dempster, Louise, seven, and Saffron, four, and sons Jake, Daniel and Jon. Jake, 19, now sports a tattoo on his neck saying RIP Dad.

Recording a suicide verdict, coroner Penelope Schofield said: 'From the evidence I have heard of the way he was found, there was an intention to take his life at the time.'

FAVOURITE PLACE

Racton Monument lies on a hill close to the village of Funtington in West Sussex.

It has on occasion been known as Stansted Castle or Racton Tower, and is thought to have been completed in 1772.

The folly was possibly intended as a summerhouse for nearby Stansted House.

The structure consists of a circular and slightly tapered tower around 80ft high, sitting on top of a broader, three-sided building with smaller towers at the corners.

Mr Emson's friend Eddie Smith said: 'It was one of his favourite haunts. It's off the beaten track and he would go there to think.'

TRIBUTES FLOOD IN TO POPULAR AND FRIENDLY TAXI DRIVER

Warm tributes have been paid to John Emson, who grew up in Somers Town, Portsmouth.

His partner, Claire Dempster, said: 'He was a loud, friendly person, with a heart of gold. He loved his cars, music and anyone who went out with him would have a laugh.

'He would do things rather than talk about them. I will miss him and his aura.'

Neighbour Phillip Rees, 55, of Farringdon Road, Havant, said Mr Emson came straight to his aid after he collapsed in the street from a heart attack. He said: 'He was the kind of man who would help anyone.'

Friend Eddie Smith, 32, from Havant, said he was still struggling to come to terms with what happened.

'I've known him for 15 years,' he said. 'I'm just absolutely gobsmacked by the whole thing.

'We had the recession last year and the business was suffering. He was working every job he could. He never let anybody in enough to fully understand how down and depressed he was.'

He said Mr Emson loved giving his customers a night to remember. He said: 'It was the full party experience.

'He would take people on club runs to Bournemouth and Brighton. The mini-bus was everything to him.'

Hundreds of tributes have been left on social networking site Facebook. One read: ''Keep them angels dancing up there, mate.'