FARMER Arnold Davenport who fought a five year battle against eviction from his farmhouse home has killed himself.

Mr Davenport, aged 61, was found hanging in a barn at his Nab Gate Farm in Harwood.

Tragically, he died unaware of an 11th hour plan that would have allowed him to remain in the farmhouse -- his home for 44 years.

His death has devastated his family and today Tracey Davenport, his sister-in-law, revealed: "It could all have been very different."

Solicitors were due to meet this week with the landowner Christopher Holt to finalise a plan for Mr Davenport to remain in the farmhouse.

Sadly, Mr Davenport died without knowing about the plans. He had been suffering from depression over recent weeks and had been undergoing treatment at Royal Bolton Hospital for the last month as a voluntary patient. He was allowed home during the day.

Mr Davenport was last seen at about 10.30am on Friday. The alarm was raised by hospital staff at about midnight after he failed to return to the ward two hours earlier.

They contacted the police and a thorough search of his farm was carried out. His body was found by officers at about 6am on Saturday morning.

Mr Davenport had battled for more than five years to save his farm -- Harwood's last remaining working farm -- from development.

He had desperately tried to raise £300,000 in a last-ditch bid to buy the farmhouse and three acres of land from landlord Christopher Holt.

Despite holding a last minute auction of farm equipment and receiving a £100,000 donation from a mystery benefactor, he was unable to raise enough money.

His fight won him the support of local residents, who formed the Harwood Action Group, local councillors and neighbouring farmers.

Devastated supporters today paid tribute to a "friend and a gentleman" as they vowed to continue the fight against developers.

His heartbroken family laid flowers at the gates to his farm yesterday. Their bouquets joined dozens of others containing messages of sympathy left on the pavement along Stitch-mi-Lane by shocked friends and neighbours.

A hand-written psalm together with a photograph of Mr Davenport and his cherished cat, Eric, and an old photograph of the farm in its working days, had been attached to the wooden gates.

Supported by her daughter Kathleen Eccleston and son Graham Davenport, Mr Davenport's 86-year-old mum, Dorothy Davenport visited to read the tributes to her son.

Tracey Davenport, Mr Davenport's sister-in-law, said: "Arnold had been fighting to keep his home and his livelihood -- that was all he wanted.

"He always said he wanted to live here and die here and we will fight on as a family in his name. He was due to be evicted, but we had plans pending and were hoping to have a happy ending for him."

Mr Davenport's brother Graham said: "He was very depressed but put on a brave face. He had recently deteriorated and had been in hospital for three weeks and for the last week was allowed home during the days, but returned each night.

"The only place he wanted to be was at the farm. I think seeing it empty must have been too much for him. He became exhausted."

His sister Kathleen said: "He came back each day to clean it up. The day before he died he said to me 'I'm happy here in these walls'."

Bradshaw Cllr Paul Brierley fought back tears as he recalled his friend.

He said: "He has fought one hell of a battle and I am sure that it will go down in the memory of all the residents in Harwood and surrounding areas.

"We are distraught, upset and have lost a friend. The community have lost a very good man. Arnold was a character of the likes that is rare these days. He would not do anyone any harm.

"It has been a pleasure to stand and fight with him. There are serious questions that need to be asked.

"Some people now need to look at themselves in the mirror. People grew to love him and he was a real gentleman. I think coming home to an empty shell must have been a shock.

Ian Broadley, chairman of the Harwood Action Group said: "We are absolutely devastated and I think I speak on behalf of everyone who has been involved in this fight.

"There will be some very angry people in Harwood and Breightmet today.

"Arnold was the sort of person who would do anything for people around here without thinking about it. Everyone in the community knew him and will be very sad to hear the news.

"I would like to express my thanks to everyone who has supported Arnold. I know he respected them and thought of him highly."

Maureen Walker, aged 71, of Fellside, said: "My son and four daughters spent all their spare time on that farm, he helped bring them up and I trusted him with their lives.

"The farm was his life and it was the centre of our community. He couldn't take any more."

Her daughter, Janine Smethurst, aged 46, of Stitch-mi-Lane, said: "I have known Arnold all my life, I used to help him milk cows, bottle the milk and even feed his cat.

"This should never have happened."

Lisa Philbin, landlady of the Nab Gate Inn on Arthur Lane, where numerous fundraising events were held, said: "I grew up here and Arnold has been part of the furniture really. He was always helping us as kids and was a lovely man.

"It is very sad to see that it has come to this."

A postmortem examination was due to be carried out today and the coroner has been informed.

An inquest into his death is likely to be opened this week.

Det Insp Martin Freschini of Bolton CID said: "Mr Davenport's body was found at about 6.30am on Saturday at the farm.

"We are satisfied there are no suspicious circumstances. A fully inquest will be carried out by the coroner."

A spokesman for the Royal Bolton Hospital said: "Mental health services in Bolton transferred from Bolton Hospital NHS Trust to Bolton, Salford and Trafford Mental Health Trust in April last year. The chief executive of that trust will deal with any inquiries."