Professor Commits Suicide After Catching Dementia

One of the country’s top experts on modern life may have killed himself after catching a rare brain disease from a tiny insect bite. University professor Alasdair Crockett was found dead in woods near his home on Saturday 48 hours after he was reported missing.

His distraught widow has told police the the leading academic was suffering from anxiety after he was bitten by a wood tick that carries the potentially-deadly Lyne Disease.

The illness can usually be treated and cleared up with anti-biotics but in extremely rare cases if it is not caught and treated early it attacks the nervous system leading to dementia.

The land, air and sea search for Dr Crockett, 38, was called off when police officers combing countryside around the family’s home in Brightlingsea, Essex found a body in creekside woods a mile away.

A former research fellow at Nuffield College Dr Crockett took up a senior part-time post last year with a prestigious think tank that monitors life in modern Britain.

As one of the chief officers with the Institute for Social and Economic Research Dr Crockett and his colleagues based at Essex University collect data on people’s changing lives.

Their findings are considered so important they are often used in determining government policy.

Cambridge-educated Dr Crockett, who held a Masters Philosophy degree, specialised in the sociology of religion and 19th century economic history.

But his life changed as he was forced to come to terms with the more serious long-term effects of Lyme Disease, an illness initially caused by an insect bite and often picked up by walkers and ramblers.

If treatment is not given early enough the disease can lead to severe mental illness such as schizophrenia.

A spokesman for Essex police said that Dr Crockett had been exhibiting symptoms of extreme anxiety which is among the effects of the disease in its advanced stages.

On Saturday after a widespread search involving a police helicopter, divers and searchers on the ground, Dr Crockett’s body matching his description was found in Thicks Wood a 15-minute walk from near the family’s home in the popular yachting village.

The hunt for the missing professor had involved a sweep of countryside around the town and divers were preparing to explore rivers and sandpits in the area.

A description of Dr Crockett – 6ft tall, slim with collar-length dark hair and wearing rectangular glasses – was also circulated to ports and airports.

But police said when he vanished he had taken nothing with him, such as his wallet, and was wearing only a T-shirt, trousers and shoes.

Mrs Crockett and the couple’s two young children are currently being comforted by family and friends.

A family liaison officer said: “Understandably Mrs Crockett is devastated by the news and totally distraught, as are his family and close friends.

“She has asked that people respect her privacy as she comes to terms with the death of her husband.”

An inquest will be held but a police spokesman said yesterday that foul play was not suspected and they were not looking for anyone else in connection with Dr Crockett’s death.

Lyme Disease is caused by a single bite of a spider-like wood tick found in forests and on moorland all over the country, often where there are deer.

The initial symptoms of a rash, drowsiness and muscle pains can normally be treated successfully with anti-biotics.

But in extremely rare cases it can develop and become a chronic illness which slowly destroys the nervous system. It leads to loss of hearing, numbness and can eventually cause serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia.