3:01pm Thursday 1st August 2013
A Coroner has urged the Ministry of Defence to reduce the stigma associated with mental health among veterans after the death of an "outstanding soldier" who hanged himself in the Preseli hills last year.
Pembrokeshire Coroner Mark Layton told the inquest of Lance Sergeant Dan Collins that he will write to the Minister of the Armed Forces seeking to prevent more deaths among soldiers and veterans through the armed services review and new protocol.
The inquest heard that the 29-year-old Welsh Guardsman, from Tiers Cross, hanged himself in Rosebush on January 1, 2012, after recording two harrowing video messages for his mum and girlfriend.
Despite the videos, Mr Layton recorded a narrative verdict because he said "the question of intent remains unclear."
He added that the soldier took steps to end his life, but that he was "not satisfied that this amounts to suicide".
In a statement read out at the inquest, his mother Deana said that LSgt Collins was an “energetic, enthusiastic, and active young boy” who joined the Newcastle Emlyn Army cadets when he was 12 years old, climbing through the ranks.
The inquest heard that LSgt Collins, who was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, attended an Army foundation college in Harrogate, South Yorkshire, and undertook basic training at Catterick when he turned 18, before joining the infantry regiment with the Welsh Guards.
He toured Northern Ireland, Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, where he was shot twice and blown off his feet twice, and witnessed his best friend Dane Elson being killed.
In her statement, Mrs Collins said: “When Dan returned from his first tour in Afghanistan, I noticed that he wasn’t himself. On several occasions when I was talking to Dan, he seemed vacant and shut off from everything.
"Then he would snap out of it and carry on as normal, but he would never tell us what was wrong.”
Mrs Collins said that after his second tour in Afghanistan, LSgt Collins was "lucky to come out alive". He was diagnosed with PTSD and signed off from the Army, but had to drive several hours to an army base to get treatment.
Mrs Collins said her son's attempts to end his own life were a "cry for help", and his gambling addiction started putting a strain on his relationship with Victoria Roach.
In her statement, Miss Roach said that it was a year before LSgt Collins was diagnosed with PTSD but his mental health was obviously deteriorating. She said that on one occasion, when a stock cage went past in Tesco, he jumped to the floor and customers in the shop stopped and stared. She said he tried to overdose on tablets, drove his car while drunk, and frequently went missing.
After an argument with Victoria about his gambling addiction, LSgt Collins was asked to leave the house on December 31, 2011. At 12.09pm on January 1, LSgt Collins called the police that he was in the Preseli hills and was going to end his life.
He was found hanging at 3.10pm in a wooded area near Rosebush.
But Mrs Collins said: "I am convinced it was a cry for help that ultimately went wrong. As far as I'm concerned it was not a true suicide attempt."
A post mortem examination revealed that LSgt Collins died as a result of hanging and asphyxia, but may also have been experiencing "toxic" effects after overdosing on antidepressants.
Member of the Defence Inquest Unit Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Kemp said that an Army investigation found that the remoteness of military treatment was a contributing factor in LSgt Collins' death, but that provision of mental health care within the Welsh Guards was fit for purpose.
He added that the panel made a number of recommendations to improve the transition of information between the MoD and the NHS, which went hand-in-hand with new Defence Medical Services protocol due to take effect in autumn.
Lt Col Kemp added that the Army was committed to removing the stigma associated with mental health issues and intended to continue raising awareness throughout the chain of command via its Don't Bottle it Up campaign.
Mr Layton said: "Lessons have been drawn from this case, and that is reassuring."
He said that he would write to the minister urging greater passage of information between the two, the NHS and the MoD, and that careful consideration be given in each individual case of mental health and how effectively care is managed and delivered.
He added: "Daniel Collins was described by the Army as an outstanding soldier, and his family is very proud of him. Your son was a brave man and I share your grief at this loss."
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