Soldier was facing ‘perfect storm’ of stresses, inquest hears

A soldier who is believed to have taken his own life was facing a “perfect storm” of stresses, his mother has told an inquest.

Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, from London, was found dead in his room at Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, Co Down, on February 10 2013.

It came just months after another soldier, Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, from Leeds, was also found hanged in his room, on December 8 2012.

Ballykinler soldiers inquests
Ballykinler soldiers inquests

Both men were serving with the Second Battalion the Rifles and had previously been on active service in Afghanistan.

An inquest sitting at Ballymena courthouse is examining both deaths.

Carol Mitchell told the inquest it was a “perfect storm” of factors that contributed to her son’s death.

She described how he had been in debt up to £6,000, an amount that she said would have seemed “insurmountable” to him, pointing out he was just 20.

Following his death, she said the owed back pay from the Army settled those debts.

Ballykinler soldiers inquests
Ballykinler soldiers inquests

Mrs Mitchell also told the inquest that he had told her about two incidents in Afghanistan which upset him.

In one, he had been due to be the soldier at the front of a patrol but was swapped with a colleague at the last minute. That soldier then suffered severe leg injuries in an attack.

She also detailed that towards the end of 2012, he had become hyper vigilant, confided in her less, was jumpy and struggling to sleep.

He had successfully applied for his “dream job” in the Army as an outdoor activity instructor, but this had involved undertaking courses across the UK and in Spain and Germany which left him very tired.

In addition, Mrs Mitchell described how her son had felt isolated after a knee injury held him back from joining his unit in Afghanistan, and instead had to serve with a different unit.

Ballykinler soldiers inquests
Ballykinler soldiers inquests

When he returned to Ballykinler and the new job, he continued to feel isolated, as a number of soldiers were taking redundancy at that time.

“Everything hit him at that precise moment,” Mrs Mitchell told the inquest.

“He thought everyone was leaving, he was exhausted, his back pay hadn’t come through, he had had a row with Cher (his girlfriend) and he had just got back after being away for a long time.”

She added that she did not blame the Army for his death but felt more could have been done to help him.

A statement from Rifleman Mitchell’s former girlfriend Anita Hassall was also read to the inquest.

It recalled an incident where he had run away from a firework display.

A statement from his friend Kendall Gibson also referred to the same incident.

“He said the fireworks reminded him too much of Afghanistan,” Mr Gibson said, adding that he was concerned about his friend’s drinking.

“It was a coping mechanism rather than going out and having fun.”

The inquest is also examining the culture at Ballykinler at the time of the deaths.

It has heard there were several incidents of self harm at that time.

Three soldiers, friends of Rifleman Mitchell who had discovered his body, were sent twice to another barracks in Lisburn, Co Antrim, by medics for treatment which included counselling and horse riding.

The inquest heard from one of the three, referred to as soldier G, who had self harmed after discovering his friend’s body.

He said shortly afterwards that Corporal Mark Farragher made a comment during a parade at Ballykinler, “who’s going to be next” and other soldiers started laughing.

“I tried to ignore it,” soldier G told the inquest, giving evidence behind a screen.

Soldier G has since left the Army and said he has been diagnosed with PTSD.

The inquest also heard from Cpl Farragher, who is now a Sergeant.

He acknowledged he also made the comment “someone’s pulling the wool” and made a reference to “grief groupies”.

Under questioning by Karen Quinlivan QC acting for the Mitchell family, he said the “pulling the wool” comment was directed at soldiers D and G.

He expressed regret at making the comments.

“Six years down the line, PTSD has taken quite a spotlight in the media, I think now people are getting aware of it and men’s health, before it was isolated incidents,” he said.

“Now I am older and more empathetic.

“In hindsight they probably were hurting and probably did benefit from the treatment they received.”

Sgt Farragher also paid tribute to Rifleman Mitchell.

“If they could make make an army of Mitchells we would be undefeatable,” he said.

The inquest continues.