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Losses outside the battlefield: Is the MoD doing enough to prevent military suicides ?

Over the course of recent weeks, press have attended Reading Town Hall as an inquest into the death of an Army cadet, Olivia Perks, took place. The circumstances have revealed that Olivia took her own life at Sandhurst military academy with a coroner concluded there were “missed opportunities” to prevent her death.

Nearly 300 military suicides

In the annual Statistical Notice published in, it was announced that between 2003 and 2022, 287 suicides have occurred within the military, 266 males and 21 females.

Since 2017, the number of army male suicides has increased, but research by the Government and Manchester University indicates that the risk of suicide is the same as the UK population albeit for the first time since the mid-1990s. 

The statistics have been driven by an increase in suicide in The Army of males aged 20–24.  This is believed to be significantly higher than the UK population. However, the Government announced last December that veterans were at “no greater risk of suicide than the general population.”

Similar trends are arising

Regardless of what the official narrative may be on statistics, it's apparent that similar trends and themes are arising in many of the recent cases. 

While many personnel may be impacted on operations, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be providing all staff with support, should they request or need it, particularly when they've lost close friends and colleagues through traumatic incidents.

Increasing numbers of female suicides

Worryingly, the statistics for female service personnel suicides is increasing, regardless of it being described as a ‘rare event.’ There's a growing call for awareness in treatment for females suffering from mental health conditions, but with pressure increasing on charities and the NHS to effectively deal with this post-service, families are looking to the Ministry of Defence to provide effective treatment for all.

Ultimately, the Ministry of Defence should also be looking to revise its procedures and risk assessments in circumstances where there's a disciplinary matter or bereavement within the regiment and ensure that those impacted by the same, regardless of the circumstances, are properly protected.

What is a Military Inquest?

An inquest is an independent process overseen by a coroner who is appointed by the local authority, with the consent of the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor. Such hearings determine why the death has occurred if it wasn't as a result of natural causes. They conclude who died, when they died, where they died and how they came to their death.

The Ministry of Defence doesn't have any control over the inquest process, but in recent years, the MoD has relied upon its separate Defence Inquest Unit to assist coroners and police in the proceedings. 

In addition to this, the Ministry of Defence may commission a service inquiry to investigate an incident which has led to a death or serious injury. Service inquiries are thorough and outline the procedures that were in place at the time, and what recommendations can be put in place to prevent such events from happening again. This is a separate process from an inquest, and as a result can cause a significant delay to the coronial proceedings.

In cases of suicide, Irwin Mitchell provides support and advice to enable families to get the answers they deserve. It seek answers from those responsible in deaths that could have been prevented or where the Ministry of Defence should have stepped in to support personnel. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's work in supporting families following the death of armed forces personnel at our dedicated military claims section.

The Army missed opportunities to prevent the suicide of a "positive and bubbly" officer cadet, a coroner has concluded.

Olivia Perks, 21, was found hanged in her room at Sandhurst military academy in Berkshire on 6 February 2019.

Speaking after the inquest, her mother said it had been a "horrific, dreadful journey" discovering the failures in Army welfare support for her daughter.”