Author Topic: Suicide note coverup ‘unforgivable’, colonel tells military inquiry  (Read 2816 times)

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Suicide note coverup ‘unforgivable’, colonel tells military inquiry

By Chris Cobb, The Ottawa Citizen June 26, 2012

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Testimony by retired Colonel Jamie Hammond at the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing today. In photo 2321, Hammond responds to a question from Commission counsel Mark Freiman.

OTTAWA — Military officers “dropped the ball” during their dealings with the parents of Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge, a military inquiry into the soldier’s suicide was told Tuesday.

Col. Jamie Hammond, appointed Chief of Staff to the Commander of Western Land Forces four months after 28-year-old Langridge hanged himself, said the soldier’s mother and stepfather, Sheila and Shaun Fynes, had a right to be frustrated at their treatment. Hammond, now retired from the military, said he was “flabbergasted” to discover that Stuart’s suicide note, containing his last wishes, had been kept from the Fynes by the military’s National Investigation Service (NIS) for 14 months.

“It was unforgivable,” said Hammond. “A suicide note is a very personal thing, and the family has a right to see it as soon as possible.”

Asked by Military Police Complaints Commission lawyer Mark Freiman whether he agreed with Shaun Fynes’s characterization that withholding the note was “cruel, callous and disrespectful”, Hammond said most people in the Canadian Forces would agree.

Hammond said he never got a satisfactory explanation as to why the note was withheld beyond being told it was “evidence”.

“Evidence of what?” asked Freiman.

Hammond didn’t respond, but said he had written to the regional head of NIS and told him:

“This is Keystone Kops. It shouldn’t have happened.”

The Fynes, who are alleging that the NIS investigation into Stuart’s death was biased in favour of their son’s chain of command, were denied access to crucial information by a military that was apparently concerned about media coverage and possible legal action by the family.

Despite statements to the media to the contrary, the Fynes have yet to be briefed about a Board of Inquiry report into Stuart’s suicide, three years after its release.

The couple had to get a copy of the report through Access to Information.

But lack of communication with the Fynes was not so much a conscious decision, said Hammond, as due to the strain of a heavy workload at CFB Edmonton, which had to deal with the aftermath of many deaths.

“There were an inordinate number of deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan,” said Hammond, adding that in his two years as chief of staff (July 2008-10), 60 of almost 100 fallen soldiers were from the western region.

CFB Edmonton and other bases were also dealing with other suicides — three in the spring of 2009 — and numerous suicide attempts, he said.

Hammond said he saw no evidence that the military had attempted to influence the NIS investigation into Langridge’s suicide, and that Major Dan Dandurand, regional head of NIS, had conducted himself professionally.

But after initial stories about the Langridge case appeared in the Ottawa Citizen and media interest in the case grew, Hammond said there was irritation among certain officers that privacy issues were preventing them from “putting out the whole story.

The attitude, said Hammond, was that “short of locking him up and taking his belt and shoelaces, it would have been difficult for the CF to do more.”

So called “media lines” created around the case were developed to help everyone likely to field reporters’ questions to send a consistent message, he said.

There was also concern that if Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk “was launching a ship” or in some other public situation, he would be armed with answers to any surprise questions from reporters about the Langridge case.

Langridge, a veteran of Bosnian and Afghanistan tours, hanged himself at CFB Edmonton in March 2008 after a long struggle with drugs and alcohol.

His parents claim he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and although a psychologist has testified he exhibited PTSD symptoms, military witnesses have said that addictions were the cause of his problems.

The Complaints Commission hearing, which began March 27, will adjourn Wednesday — its 40th day — for the summer and resume in September. Next up are the first of a dozen NIS officers who are the subjects of the specific complaints the Fynes have made to the commission.

Wednesday’s only witness, an investigator from the Military Ombudsman’s office, will be the 70th to appear.
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