‘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

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