The number of people killing themselves by jumping off Beachy Head nearly tripled this year, figures showed today.

Deaths have increased since a cliff top patrol was forced to quit over health and safety fears.

Now there are substantial worries the upward trend will continue through 2008 - a year many predict will one of financial hardship.

Medical archivist and retired pathologist Dr John Surtees, who compiles figures on suicides along a six km stretch around Beachy Head, said: "I'm sure there will be an increase. I think it's probably inevitable."

Eighteen people plunged to their deaths from 535ft-high cliffs at Beachy Head during the past 12 months compared with just seven the year before.

The increase coincides with Keith Lane, whose wife Maggie killed herself at Beachy Head in 2004, stopping his cliff top patrols.

Mr Lane is credited with preventing at least 29 suicides after starting his work in 2004.

The number of deaths at Beachy Head fell between 2004 and 2006.

In 2004 there were 34 deaths, while in 2005 there were 26 and seven in 2006.

A number of people directly crediting Mr Lane for the reduction.

But after coming under fire for his methods earlier this year, Mr Lane, a window cleaner from Whitley Road, Eastbourne, decided to quit.

He said: "I think it's going to get worse especially with the way the pressures of life are going."

Mind, the mental health charity agreed.

A spokesman said: "The pressures of life are undoubtedly getting bigger.

"There is a lot of talk about 2008 being a tough year financially, what with the so-called credit crunch.

"I would suspect this could quite easily lead to more people suffering in a mental capacity."

Experts have told The Argus that those who contemplate suicide fall into two categories.

Dr Surtees said: "There are those who go and sit on the edge of the cliff and someone will come along and say come on don't do it, let's go and have a drink and talk it over.

"It's these people who may now end up killing themselves because there are not so many people around to talk them out of it."

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team dubbed the "Clifftop Angels" does still carry out patrols.

It was unavailable for comment.

Among those who have killed themselves near Beachy Head this year are Melanie Wells, 45, wife of former Sussex and England cricketer Alan Wells, also 45.

The couple lived in Alfriston.