Terry Kilgariff placed his first bet as a teenager on Red Rum in his first Grand National, winning £3.
But the flutter became just the first of thousands, leading the now 59-year-old into a spiral of desperation, constantly chasing a win.
Growing up in Wesham, he would spend his summers as a child playing in penny arcades in Fleetwood and Cleveleys, but blames his first win on the horses as the start of the downfall.
“I was quite shy around females, most of my colleagues were females, so I would find myself in the bookies in Lytham in my lunch breaks”, remembers dad-of-one Terry.
“Going into the bookies was a form of escape and somewhere to go, and having the Red Rum experience thinking I could double my money.”
But Terry soon lost his job with the insurance company he worked for, as he was unable to focus at work and frequently took time off to gamble.
He manage to find other employment, but would often lose most of his wages just hours after being paid on a Friday afternoon.
“But with only a week to wait, I would get by through the bank of mum and dad, so there were no consequences”, he recalls.
Terry eventually met a girlfriend and got engaged, and began training as a psychiatric nurse.
But he left after a year to work in a blind home in Blackpool – unable to keep up with his studies as he was “young and in love” and wanted to spend time with his fiancée.
He says: “We started saving up together, but there was a bookies around the corner and because I lived in at the blind home when I wasn’t seeing her, I would be at the bookies spending the money I was supposed to be saving towards getting married.
“It came to Christmas and I had spent all my wages and couldn’t afford a present, so we broke up on Christmas Eve.
“I came clean and told her what had happened, and I packed my job in at the same time.”
In an ironic twist, Terry was given a job as a trainee bookmaker in Preston, in which he excelled to the extent he was given his own shop in Blackpool.
He worked in Preston in the winter, and the brand new Coral Island in the resort through the summer.
Terry got married to one of the members of staff in 1979 and lived in Blackpool, and admitted he would be “gambling all the time”.
He remembers: “I used to go to the dogs twice a week, which was 50 yards from where we lived.
“This particular night, it was the day before pay day and I took £100 out of the float from my shop and went to the dogs, thinking I would be able to pay that back.
“I thought, even if I couldn’t pay it back, I could take it out of my wages.
“But who should have been waiting there but the regional auditor.
“So I panicked and tried to cover up the £100 by adjusting the receipt from the bank.
“He obviously picked up on it, but didn’t say anything until the end of the day.
“He came back at the end of the day and took me to the police station – I lost my job, got a six-month suspended sentence and a fine for theft and falsification of accounts.”
Terry managed to find another job in a bookmakers, but decided he wanted to return to nursing, training in Blackburn and then in Whittingham, Preston.
During that time, he and his wife separated, “mainly because of the gambling”.
Soon after returning to Whittingham Hospital, both of Terry’s parents died within a short time frame, and he had to work two jobs on top of his training to make ends meet.
The pressure of the debt and his parents’ death led Terry to collapse through exhaustion.
In 1993, Terry met a new partner, who would become the mother of his son.
He explains: “We got together and, just as I was qualifying, she got a house in Fulwood, we moved in together and within the year we had our son.
“I was still gambling, but keeping it away from her so she didn’t know – until she went in to have the baby in hospital.
“She left me her bank card.
“He had jaundice and she was in for a week.
“Within a week, I gambled £2,000 of her money from her bank card.
“I didn’t know what to do. I wrote down everything, I started to write a letter and ended up with 11 pages of everything.”
Terry’s partner stood by him, insisting he went to Gamblers Anonymous – which was then held in Saul Street in Preston.
He says he managed to do well for about six months, achieving his nursing qualification, renovating their home, getting a car and running the football team at Whittingham Hospital.
But Terry resented the fact he had no access to money, as recommended by Gamblers Anonymous, and had to ask his partner for cash.
He remembers: “We were burgled while we were away on holiday, and I then created another burglary.
“We used to keep the money in a tin.
“I needed the money to gamble because some other money she had given me for some tickets I had spent on gambling, so it was covering it up.
“So I created a false burglary.”
Terry’s partner didn’t find out he had faked the crime, until he fell further into the depths of desperation.
He was given a job in a community support team in Blackburn, following the closure of Whittingham Hospital.
On one occasion, he had asked his boss for an advance on his wages, but then had to cover that up to his partner.
He lied, saying he had only been paid half a wage on pay day.
He explains: “To cover that up, I ended up stealing money from one of the patients – I took his credit card.
“Eventually, they found out. I was on my way to confess to him and they found out.”
Terry had stolen about £2,000 from a patient with mental health issues, believing he could win it back and return it to him.
He says: “I went and told them at work, then I went to the police station – I was expecting a custodial sentence.”
He was given three years on probation and 150 hours’ community service and a fine, and went before the Nursing and Midwifery Council, who said they would review the case over a year.
His partner left him, moved back to South Wales and sold the house.
Terry was having treatment, attending Gamblers Anonymous and began another healthcare job, but says he was leading a “double life”.
Working in forensic psychiatry in East Lancashire, he lived alone in an unfamiliar town, and spent his days off in the bookies, falling back into the gambling trap.
He says: “The only difference was it was huger amounts of money.
“I was getting £2,000 a month and spending £1,500 on the first day and surviving on £100 and my rent.
“I was becoming quite depressed living on my own, and I was either at work, stuck in the flat or at the bookies.
“I got quite down and, because of the fact I was spending all my wages, I started taking loans and couldn’t afford to pay them.
“I was met by the bailiffs one day, when they took pretty much all my wages off me and I ended up with no food to survive, and ended up stealing food from work.
“I got found out and got sacked.” Following various homes and jobs, Terry met a new partner, who bailed him out to the tune of £20,000, and he spent his spare time with her in the Lake District.
But gambling took hold once again and, just before heading off on holiday to Tunisia with his partner and her children, he lost all their spending money in the bookmakers.
And, working in a nursing home, he was accused of stealing from another patient and was sacked, even though he says the claim was false.
He remembers: “And my partner left me – it was like the end of the world.
“I ended up not working, becoming very very depressed, and attempted suicide.”
Terry ended up in a spiral of gambling, rent arrears, court and eviction.
Last year, while in a park in Fulwood, he called his friend before taking a number of tablets, and was taken to A&E by police.
Since then, Terry has been staying in a homeless shelter in the centre of Preston, and is currently looking for work.
He says: “If I hadn’t been going to Gamblers Anonymous every week for the last two-and-a-half years, I don’t know where I would be.
“But I certainly wouldn’t have been here.
“Now I want to help people, and make people aware that there’s help available for people in Preston.
“I’m trying to give something back and try to help somebody by being as honest as I can be.
“Nobody can make me feel any worse about what I’ve done than myself.”
- Preston’s GA meetings are held in St Wilfrid’s Church Hall in Chapel Street, from 7.45pm to 9.45pm on Fridays.
- Blackpool’s GA meetings are held in St Kentigern’s Church Hall in Blackpool, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm on Wednesdays.