MY SON WAS LEFT TO DIE ALONE
‘Danny was special. He gave his all for Britain only to be let down in his hour of need...’ Mother’s fury at missed chances to stop soldier taking his own life
AGRIEVING mother has told of a string of failures that led to her war hero son killing himself. Danny Johnston of the Special Reconnaissance, sister unit of the SAS, took his own life in May while suffering posttraumatic stress disorder.
Now his mother Viv has revealed the blunders that led to the 35-yearold elite soldier’s body being found in woodland near his home in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, three days after he went missing.
Mrs Johnston reveals how: Danny had made an attempt on his life a week before his death but doctors failed to help him.
She was forced to call for help from ex-Army colleagues to form a search party after an “inadequate” police response.
A police officer falsely announced on social media that Danny had been found, a mistake which resulted in search efforts dwindling while Danny was still missing.
Family friend and Coronation Street actor Daniel Brocklebank, who plays Billy Mayhew, joined in the search and also made a missing person’s appeal on Twitter.
“Danny was too special to die alone the way he did,” Mrs Johnston said. “He gave his all for this country, only to be completely let down in his hour of need.
“It is disgusting how veterans are treated, they are just left alone.
“The toll of suicides among ex-servicemen and women this year alone is around 56, but this news is being buried. The Government need to do more. There are no support systems, no funding
In our exclusive interview Viv Johnston tells SIAN HEWITT how her son Danny was failed by doctors and police. She is demanding that our heroes are given support to help them cope with the trauma of war
for men and women who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe.
“There were opportunities to save Danny. It was clear he was struggling, we did the best we could but there’s no service out there to help veterans. His death needs to be a wake-up call.”
Mrs Johnston said her son “battled in silence” with mental health after he was discharged in 2013. “He joined the Army at 17 and rose up, he was brilliant and served in Afghanistan, Iraq, all over. As his mum, I worried a lot, but I was so incredibly proud,” she said. After rising through the ranks, Danny was picked for the Special Reconnaissance, an Army special forces unit specialising in surveillance and intelligence gathering, often behind enemy lines.
“It is only since his death that I have been made aware of the incredible work he did,” Mrs Johnston said. “He was a genuine hero.”
But Danny’s career was cut short when, on leave, he was found with non-prescription Valium. Mrs Johnston said: “He never slept well. He had seen a lot – I still don’t know the depths of what he witnessed but he used the Valium to sleep, only while he was off duty at home. But he was i mmediately dis- charged. It affected him massively. That was the start of his mental health problems.”
Danny reapplied to the Army, but was turned down, then worked in covert surveillance and security with a Hereford firm that hired exSAS soldiers. “He really enjoyed it, but had PTSD and didn’t want to open up for fear he would lose the job he loved, like before,” she said. “In May this year, just one week before he died, he went to work and he reached out to colleagues and said he was struggling.
“He was found in woodland by friends with a bottle of drink and a rope. They got him to hospital and we hoped he would get the help he desperately needed but after a psychologist’s report he was allowed to leave. There was no ongoing support and a waiting list for more than six weeks for help. He died a week later.”
Danny went missing on a Saturday night out and Mrs Johnston called police. He returned the next morning but was “agitated” with his mother for alerting officers.
“He was cross,” she said. “And he looked awful. I went to work and left him with his brother and stepdad, but he went out and never came back. He sent me a number of texts and the last one said, ‘I’m sorry Mum for any pain I have caused you’. And then his phone went dead. That was the last I heard from him.
“We called the police but they just went through the motions. They told us they had the wrong sort of sniffer dogs so couldn’t use
them and at one point, a desk sergeant looked at the report from the week before, got confused and announced on Facebook that he had been found. It lulled everyone into a false sense of security.
“More than 100 of Danny’s ex colleagues and friends were searching. They were dedicated, which is more than I can say for Sussex Police.”
ON WEDNESDAY, Danny’s body was found. “The pain is something you cannot describe,” said Mrs Johnston. “There are a million things I would do differently. I tried broaching the subject with him a number of times, but he would shut down and I didn’t want him to feel alienated. I wanted him to know that home was his safe place.”
Danny’s funeral was held at Chichester cathedral, where The Last Post was played before a gun salute. “It was fitting for our hero,” Mrs Johnston said. “But I do not want Danny’s death to be in vain. The powers that be need to sit up and take note. We need to look after our soldiers, both during and after service.”
Mrs Johnston has been working with charity All Call Signs, set up by Stephen James and Dan Arnold, who both served with the Princess of Wales’s Royal regiment, amid concern over long wait times for mental health services and the growing number of suicides.
“If we can save one person by continuing to shout for help, it will be worth it,” she said. “There needs to be immediate support. It is the difference between life and death. Upon leaving the military there should be counsellors available. At the moment that wait can be six weeks or more. But when you’re struggling to get through each day, six weeks is a lifetime.
“At the moment they leave the Army and they are left alone. Many struggle with this, understandably so. The problem is there is a mentality amongst top brass that they need to be strong and not show weakness but these soldiers are human, often dealing with seeing the worst. That needs to be remembered. Suffering with mental health or PTSD is not a weakness. Families also need help and support in how to support our loved ones who may be struggling.”
Mrs Johnston backs the All Call Signs slogan “Camaraderie in the face of adversity, whether in uniform or out”. The charity is building a veterans’ network with search support should a person go missing. Mrs Johnston has also raised thousands of pounds for Walking With the Wounded to fund counsellors.
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood on Thursday announced a working group to investigate ways to tackle suicide and homelessness. “It will look at how to address issues affecting those in such distress now and how to prevent others feeling the same,” he said. “Suicide is the most tragic symptom of many other issues such as mental health, family breakdown, debt and unemployment.
“In some cases military service plays a role and we need to better understand the causes so we can try to prevent further suicides.”
DEVASTATED: Coronation Street star Daniel was a friend
PROUD: Danny loved his career in the Army but the force he served went on to ignore his plight HEARTACHE: Mother Viv and Danny as a chirpy youngster and as he embraced the outdoor lifestyle