Mother of Lance Corporal, 30, found hanged at same base another soldier who survived deadliest Afghan battle ‘took his own life’ was ‘stopped from talking to his friends’, inquest hears
- Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, was found hanged at Army base in Ballykinler
- Mother Linda Ketcher questioned why her son was sent to an ‘isolated’ base
- She told the inquest how senior Army personnel kept her son’s friends away from her at the funeral saying it was ‘odd’ she was not allowed to have a conversation
- Darren Mitchell, 20, also died from suspected suicide at base three months later
Lance Corporal James Ross (pictured), 30, from Leeds, was found hanged at Abercorn Army base in Ballykinler on December 8 2012
The mother of a soldier found hanged in a suspected suicide at an isolated barracks, where another solder is suspected to have killed himself months later, has said she was kept away from his friends at his funeral.
It comes as a Daily Mail investigation found men from their regiment, which took heavy losses in Helmand, are self-harming and taking their own lives at an alarming rate.
Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, from Leeds, who served in Afghanistan, was found hanged at Abercorn Army base in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland, on December 8 2012.
The inquest into his death, and the death by hanging of Rifleman Darren Mitchell, six weeks later at the same base, opened today.
L/Cpl Ross’s mother Linda Ketcher told the Co. Antrim inquest that during her son’s funeral, whenever one of his friends came over to speak to her, they were interrupted by more senior people from the Army.
She said: ‘A few of them [his friends from the Army] were visibly upset.
‘If any of the guys who served with him [came to speak to me], within minutes, there would be someone ushering them away from me.
‘It just felt really odd that I could not have a conversation of any kind with his friends from his regiment.’
Linda Ketcher (pictured) told an inquest into his death that she was ushered away from speaking to her don’s comrades
Mrs Ketcher told the inquest that her son found Ballykinler – which a preliminary hearing heard was darkly nicknamed ‘Bally Kill Yourself’ by squaddies – to be a cold and isolated place, so he kept himself busy by keeping fit and taking a number of courses.
But the threat of dissident IRA activity meant they were still not entirely secure at the barracks.
Ms Ketcher told the Mail: ‘These boys suffer from a mental, physical and emotional illness.
‘Yet the Army and Ministry of Defence still take the view they need to pull themselves together, to “man up” in their parlance.’
She told the inquest she did not consider it acceptable for young men who served with the Army in Afghanistan to have been sent to isolated barracks such as Ballykinler and said her son was ‘gutted’ to be posted there after his second tour of Afghanistan ended in April 2012.
But she said he was happy in his career and very pleased at his recent promotion to Lance Corporal, saying: ‘He found a career that he loved and was progressing well at it.’
In a tragic twist, she revealed her son had cancelled his Christmas leave to allow comrades with children to spend the holidays with their families but had told her to leave his presents under the tree so they could celebrate together after Christmas. He died on December 8.
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The inquest into L/Cpl Ross’ death, and the death of Rifleman Darren Mitchell found hanged six weeks later, opened today at Ballymena Courthouse in Co Antrim.
It comes after a Daily Mail special investigation found that veterans who served in the deadliest Afghan town for UK forces are taking their own lives at an alarming rate.
C Company of 2 Rifles saw five dead and seven wounded in a Taliban attack involving improvised explosive devices and an ambush on July 10, 2009. Three of the fatalities were teenagers.
Three more young soldiers caught up in the attack or its immediate aftermath have since killed themselves, two in the past seven months.
The suicide rate for the men of C Company who were in Sangin in July 2009, approximately 80 soldiers in total, is more than 200 times higher than the average rate for men in the UK – 15.5 per 100,000 – which stands at its lowest level since records began.
At least three other servicemen who were with 2 Rifles in 2009 have also been found dead in the UK, as have two other young soldiers who served with 2 Rifles on its next Afghan tour. Others in the unit have carried out non-fatal self-harm.
Both L/Cpl Ross and Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, from London, had previously been on active service with 2nd Battalion the Rifles.
An additional eight incidents of serious self-harm involving other soldiers in the same unit were recorded over a six-month period within which the two men died.
Lance Corporal Ross was found hanged at Abercorn Army base (left and right) in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland
At the inquest, Mrs Ketcher said her son confided in her about some incidents which upset him.
‘An Afghan man came running towards him carrying something in a blanket,’ she told the inquest. ‘As he approached the man opened the blanket, a little girl was in there who was badly injured.’
She described how he tried to help the child before alerting the medics to help her. She said he found that incident very distressing and it stayed with him.
James’ sister Helen Thomas also gave evidence to say he was disturbed by the incident with the little girl as she had reminded him of his niece and nephew.
Mrs Ketcher also questioned why there were two incidents where young men appeared to take their own lives within three months at Ballykinler.
‘We are asking is there adequate care there?’ she said.
Soldier Darren Mitchell (pictured), 20, from London also died from suspected suicide three months later
A Government spokesman said: ‘Any suicide is a tragedy. We take the mental wellbeing of our serving and former personnel extremely seriously, and urge anyone struggling to come forward and access the care they deserve.
‘The MoD has increased spending on mental health to £22million a year, and the NHS has committed to expanding specialist health support for veterans across the country.’
The inquest continues.
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