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Probe into death of corporal examines why suicide note was kept secret 14 months

OTTAWA— From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 9:00PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 9:04PM EDT

In the days before Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge committed suicide at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton, he was seen frequently going through his belongings, his then-boss recalled.

Only after Corporal Langridge was found hanging in March, 2008 did the rummaging seem noteworthy, retired master corporal William Fitzpatrick said Wednesday at a hearing into his death.

The public interest hearing is only the third since the Military Police Complaints Commission was created in 1999. The MPCC is investigating the conduct of military police in the case, focusing on allegations brought forward by the soldier’s family. Central to the probe is why it took 14 months to hand over a suicide note left for his mother and stepfather, or even tell the family about its existence.

Other allegations being examined by the hearing, which began last month, are that three investigations into Cpl. Langridge’s death by the Canadian Forces National Investigations Service were inadequate and biased, aiming to exonerate Canadian Forces members of responsibility.

Cpl. Langridge, who also served in Bosnia, had been admitted to hospital several times in the last year of his life for suicide attempts and use of alcohol and cocaine. His parents say he was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr. Fitzpatrick recalled Wednesday, under questioning by the commission lawyer, that he brought up the corporal’s rummaging through his belongings during an interview with military police shortly after the suicide.

“You see on TV and you hear people go through their memories,” he told the hearing. “That’s just my take on it.”

A picture of the corporal’s last weeks and the base’s response to his mental-health issues began to emerge as Mr. Fitzpatrick explained the 28-year-old’s daily responsibilities. He was working under Mr. Fitzpatrick, looking after maintenance tasks at the Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment. “There wasn’t much work,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

The corporal was often absent or late for work, Mr. Fitzpatrick said, and when he returned from a stay in an Alberta hospital special arrangements were made for him. He was to report to someone every few hours and had escorts for medical appointments, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

Cpl. Langridge was given a place to live on the base, somewhere members who are being disciplined usually stay, Mr. Fitzpatrick said. But he said everyone would have known he wasn’t in trouble because he wasn’t ordered to march or do drills.

Mr. Fitzpatrick, following orders from his regimental sergeant major, said he began setting up a “watch” for the corporal.

He avoided calling it a “suicide watch” because, “You don’t know how a person’s going to react,” he said. But after he sent out e-mails looking for available people for the watch, one came back with the word suicide and Cpl. Langridge saw it. He was calm but discussed the matter with the regimental sergeant major, Mr. Fitzpatrick said, and “the watch was scrapped.”

In response to questions from commission lawyer Mark Freiman, Mr. Fitzpatrick said he didn’t have any suicide prevention training.

Another allegation being dealt with at the hearing is that the investigation by military police lacked independence from the Canadian Forces.

But Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Delaney, the current commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigations Service, repeatedly told the hearing that military police are well prepared to investigate objectively. “On the aspect of independence, I don’t have any concerns,” he said.

He said an operating procedure has changed since Cpl. Langridge’s death, including a specific requirement to give families copies of suicide notes quickly.

© Copyright 2012 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.