The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Sandhurst ‘could have prevented’ suicide of cadet

I was mistaken to think my daughter was safe, says mother as coroner criticises Army failings

- By Danielle Sheridan

Defence eDitor

THE Army could have prevented the suicide of one of its Sandhurst cadets, a coroner has ruled.

Olivia Perks, 21, died in her bedroom at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as a result of “asphyxia due to hanging” in February 2019.

Alison McCormick, a Berkshire coroner, told Reading Coroner’s Office that if the mental welfare of Ms Perks, who was deemed “vulnerable” and known to have made suicide attempts, had been adequately safeguarde­d she may not have been able to end her life.

Ms McCormick told the inquest: “Had the increased risk been recognised and acted upon, Liv may have been under closer supervisio­n on Feb 6 2019 and the opportunit­y for her to be alone in her room, when she should have been at training, may have been avoided.”

The coroner added that there was an “inadequate level of staffing of the welfare department” at the academy and that the military had failed “to adequately train all levels of the chain of command in managing welfare issues”.

Ms McCormick also found that the unit welfare officer had failed to “adequately follow” the vulnerabil­ity risk management policy, nor “promote its implementa­tion”. In a statement after the interview, Ms Perks’s mother, Louise Townsend, said the coroner’s findings meant that her daughter’s death had been “avoidable”.

“We have been fighting for the truth of what really happened since she passed and the story we were presented with by the Ministry of Defence was very different to the conclusion that has been reached by the coroner,” Ms Townsend said.

She added that while she knew her daughter had chosen a military career that had “inherent risks”, she felt “secure in the knowledge that she would be safe for those 44 weeks while at this prestigiou­s academy. Sadly, this was not the case.”

Over the course of the 16-day inquest, it was heard that during Ms Perks’s time at Sandhurst she committed deliberate self-harm in the form of attempted suicide while “heavily intoxicate­d” on the morning of July 17 2018, when away from the facility. After assessment by the Department­s of Community Mental Health, and the chain of command she was deemed “fit to return to training” the day after the events took place.

Some months later Ms Perks attended a charity Falklands Ball where she “drank to excess and awoke in the Sergeants’ and Warrant Officers’ Mess.

She missed the first parade and an investigat­ion began after she admitted to the chain of command where she had been. She was said to have felt an “overwhelmi­ng sense of embarrassm­ent” after the incident.

The coroner said the chain of command missed an opportunit­y to have Ms Perks seen by a doctor after that night.

Recording a conclusion of suicide, Ms McCormick said: “[It] is not possible to know what the outcome would have been had a medical assessment taken place, but it is possible that measures would have been put in place which could have prevented Olivia’s death.”

Maj Gen Zac Stenning, the commandant of Sandhurst, said: “We are deeply sorry for the failings within the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst which led to the tragic death of Officer Cadet Olivia Perks in February 2019.”

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 ?? ?? Olivia Perks, right, and her parents Louise Townsend, below left, and
Ian Perks; Ms Townsend said the coroner’s findings meant that her daughter’s death had been ‘avoidable’
Olivia Perks, right, and her parents Louise Townsend, below left, and Ian Perks; Ms Townsend said the coroner’s findings meant that her daughter’s death had been ‘avoidable’

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