EXCLUSIVE

TWO young men were found hanged within a few hours of each other on New Year's Eve.

Father-of-one Shaun Rourke, 36, was found dead in his semi-detached home in Sefton Close, Clayton-le-Moors, by his father and a neighbour at around 5pm.

And Brett Whittam, 34, was discovered at his home in Devonshire Street, Accrington, by a friend who called the police shortly after 10pm.

His mum Diana, who lives in Accrington, and dad Ivor, who lives in Bolton, were said to be "distraught" over his death.

The double tragedy followed a warning by the Samaritans that vulnerable people can often feel lonely and suicidal over the Christmas and New Year period.

A spokesman for the Hyndburn and Blackburn branch, which handles over 20,000 calls a week, said: "It is very sad to hear of any suicides, particularly young men, who are the most vulnerable and have the highest suicide risk rates in society."

Mr Rourke is believed to have lived alone but was regularly visited by his young son Bradley.

Next-door neighbour Marian Hampson, 60, said she was shocked at what had happened.

She said Mr Rourke's death had also upset other neighbours who had known him since he moved into the quiet close five months ago.

Resident Dave Price, 48, said he had invited Mr Rourke over to his house on New Year's Eve for a party and had wondered why he didn't turn up.

He added: "The first I knew of it was when all the police and ambulances arrived, it was like Holby City in the close. Shaun had invited me to his house-warming when he first moved in and I had got to know him since then.

"He was very friendly and cheerful and I had taken over a small present for his son to open at Christmas.

"He worked hard as a lorry driver and had worked hard on his house. He had really made it look nice. I just wish I had known he was unhappy so I might have been able to do something."

Friends living down the road in Wellfield, where Mr Rourke previously lived, also spoke of their shock that such a popular man had died.

The death is the second tragedy to hit Sefton Close after a young police officer was stabbed to death by her husband on Christmas Eve 2003.

Neighbours of Brett Whittam, a single man who worked as a floor manager at Express Gifts, Church, said he had only lived at his rented address in Accrington for about a month.

His aunt Catherine Bibby of Ellerbeck Road, Accrington, said: "He was a very outgoing, friendly, jolly person. He had lots of friends and loved socialising. We have no idea why he did this - it has been a complete shock. His parents are distraught."

Inquests into both deaths were due to open yesterday (Thurs).

The Samaritans spokesman added: "Reflecting the national trend, we have had an increase in calls over the Christmas and New Year period, with our volume of calls being up 29 per cent compared with the same period last year.

"At this time of year many calls are from people who are reminded of a loved one they have lost, or have had a relationship breakdown, or perhaps have returned home after seeing friends and family and are feeling lonely, depressed and distressed.

"People may think that Christmas and New Year are enjoyable times but for many people they are very distressing."