Author Topic: Langridge changed will, death benefit form shortly before death, inquiry hears  (Read 1102 times)

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Langridge changed will, death benefit form shortly before death, inquiry hears

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/story_print.html?id=6519369&sponsor=

By Chris Cobb, The Ottawa Citizen April 25, 2012



Shortly before he committed suicide, Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge completed a new will and death benefit form that were eventually found behind an office filing cabinet, a military inquiry was told Wednesday.
Photograph by: Courtesy, Langridge family



OTTAWA — Shortly before he committed suicide, Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge completed a new will and death benefit form that were eventually found behind an office filing cabinet, a military inquiry was told Wednesday.

Langridge, who hanged himself at CFB Edmonton in March 2008, had recently separated from his common-law-wife and was advised by his immediate supervisor to change his documentation to reflect that change.

“Somehow these forms were left on top of my filing cabinet,” retired Cpl. William Fitzpatrick told the Military Police Complaints Commission. “While I was doing some housecleaning I found them behind my filing cabinet.”

Fitzpatrick, who was in charge of maintenance at the base, said his office was used by numerous people as a temporary storage room, and the forms likely got dislodged among the mess.

Although there is no suggestion of wrongdoing on Fitzpatrick’s part, Langridge had changed the executor of his will from a friend to his stepfather, Shaun Fynes, and more significantly, changed the name on his Supplementary Death Benefits form from his girlfriend to his mother Sheila.

The family were not told about the forms until three months after their son’s funeral even though Fitzpatrick reported them found within days of Langridge’s death.

The existence of the forms only came to light, says Langridge’s family, after Stuart’s friend and original executor became concerned the military had not contacted him.

Benefits in excess of $100,000 ultimately went to Langridge’s common-law wife, from whom he had been separated for about three months. She is yet to testify.

Langridge’s mother and stepfather, Sheila and Shaun Fynes of Victoria, B.C., allege that three separate military police investigations into their son’s death were biased and more intent on protecting the military than finding the truth surrounding Langridge’s suicide.

The purpose of the inquiry is to determine whether the Fynes’ allegations are valid.

After a day of testimony from Fitzpatrick and Robert Delaney, the current head of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (NIS), the often testy atmosphere at the hearing re-emerged when Department of Justice lawyers acting for the military made the surprise announcement that they want former NIS chief Gilles Sansterre to appear Thursday.

Sansterre, who is named in one of the complaints lodged by the Langridge family, was scheduled to appear later in the inquiry but an aspect of Delaney’s testimony prompted federal lawyer Elizabeth Richards to insist on the schedule change.

The issue appears to relate to an announcement by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk of a change in the military’s policy towards suicide notes.

(A note left by Langridge was withheld by the military for 14 months, his parents not told of its existence).

Although Natynczyk made the announcement in 2010, it remains unclear from evidence at the inquiry whether a new policy on suicide notes was implemented until at least a year later – if at all.

The change of schedule is especially problematic because Langridge’s mother Sheila was to be the only witness Thursday.

The Fynes’ clearly frustrated lawyer, Michel Drapeau, said that Richards’ 11th hour intervention had “surprised and disappointed” the family.

“We agree to this because the Fynes stand for fairness and truth and are reasonable people,” he said. “But we agree very reluctantly.”

Commission counsel Mark Freiman said he reluctantly agreed to the change because an issue of “fundamental fairness” had to be attended to.

“This is not a happy situation,” he said, “but it is probably the best of a number of poor alternatives.”

Richards, who had left the hearing for about two hours early Wednesday afternoon, defended her decision to call Sansterre.

“Fairness is owed to all parties in this hearing,” she said.

Sheila Fynes told the Citizen after the hearing that she had been anxiously waiting to testify.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “My husband is here to support me, so yes, I am disappointed. But it is what it is.”

Her testimony will now begin Thursday afternoon and continue May 7 after the inquiry breaks for a week.

In his testimony earlier Wednesday, NIS commander Delaney insisted that his investigators are scrupulously independent from military brass and are trained to avoid “tunnel vision.”

“Our investigators are trained to get the facts and consider all possible venues to get those facts,” said Delaney, who has commanded NIS for a year.

Commission lawyer Genevieve Coultee asked Delaney whether NIS investigators are intimidated by rank if they are faced with questioning superior officers.

“We have a saying: ‘Don’t confuse your rank with my authority,’” he said. “Their police authority can’t be undermined by position or rank.”

With the exception of one “embedded” legal advisor, all the legal advice to the NIS comes from lawyers under the Judge Advocate General (JAG), said Delaney.

Langridge family lawyer Drapeau said JAG also advises the Minister of Defence and Chief of Defence staff, so, “does that create a perception of a lack of independence?”

No, responded Delaney, because the lawyers only provide advice and not orders to NIS.

Much of the remaining questioning of Delaney focused on policy about returning evidence to family, and specifically suicide notes that, according to defence chief Natynczyk, will now be handed over to families as quickly as possible.


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