Soldier was ‘gutted’ to be sent to army base before his death, inquest told

The mother of a soldier who died at an “isolated” army barracks in Co Down shortly after serving in Afghanistan has questioned his posting there.

Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, from Leeds, was found hanged in a suspected suicide on December 8 2012 at Abercorn Barracks at Ballykinler.

Three months later, Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, from London, was also found hanged at the base.

Both had recently served in Afghanistan.

Ballykinler soldiers inquests
Rifleman Darren Mitchell, whose death is also being investigated (Liberty Human Rights)

Linda Ketcher said she did not believe it was acceptable that young men who had served in Afghanistan were sent to “isolated” barracks such as Ballykinler.

She said James was “gutted” to be posted there and not closer to home after his second tour of Afghanistan from October 2011 to April 2012.

Mrs Ketcher said her son confided in her about some incidents which upset him.

One involved a badly injured young girl, which she said her son had found very distressing and had stayed with him.

“An Afghan man came running towards him carrying something in a blanket,” she told the inquest.

Ballykinler soldiers inquests
Abercorn Barracks at Ballykinler, Co Down, where two soldiers died within three months of each other (PA Archive)

“As he approached the man opened the blanket, a little girl was in there who was badly injured.”

She described how he tried to help the child before alerting the medics to help her.

James’s sister Helen Thomas also gave evidence to say he was disturbed by this incident as the girl had reminded him of his niece and nephew.

Mrs Ketcher also questioned why there were two incidents where young men appeared to take their own lives within three months at Ballykinler.

“We are asking is there adequate care there?” she said.

She said her son found Ballykinler to be a cold and isolated place, and tried to keep himself busy by keeping fit and taking a number of courses.

But she said he was happy in his career and very pleased at his recent promotion to Lance Corporal.

“He found a career that he loved and was progressing well at it,” she said.

Ballykinler soldiers inquests
Ballymena Courthouse where the inquest is taking place (Rebecca Black/PA)

Mrs Ketcher said her son had been making plans to come home for a late Christmas and spend New Year’s Eve in Paris with his girlfriend.

She told the inquest that he had cancelled leave for Christmas to allow others with families and children to get it instead, and allow him to catch up with administrative work.

She said he told her to keep his presents under the tree so they could celebrate a late Christmas together.

Inquests into the deaths of L/Cpl Ross and Rifleman Mitchell are taking place at Ballymena Courthouse in Co Antrim this week.

They had previously been on active service with 2nd Battalion the Rifles.

An additional eight incidents of serious self-harm involving other soldiers in the same unit were recorded over a six-month period within which the two men died.

A preliminary hearing of the inquest was told a colleague described Ballykinler barracks as “Bally Kill Yourself”.

Written evidence before counsel for the victims’ families disclosed that L/Cpl Ross had discussed the loss of personnel during overseas combat.

The last resident battalion moved out of Ballykinler in 2014.

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