Retired police chief with coronavirus killed himself while isolating from his family

Retired police chief Jim Webster took his own life while isolating due to coronavirus (reach)

A retired police chief took his own life after contracting coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, an inquest heard.

Jim Webster, 58, was found dead in a chalet at the bottom of his garden after self-isolating there to protect his wife and children.

He had returned from London to his home in Cornwall with symptoms of Covid-19 at the end of March, according to PlymouthLive.

After quarantining himself in his chalet, Webster was found dead on the morning of 1 April.

A former assistant chief constable, Webster had also been a commander with the Metropolitan Police as well as chief superintendent of Plymouth.

The inquest heard in a statement from his widow Maureen that he had developed a cough and fever so he decided to quarantine to protect her and their grown-up children Max and Robyn.

The couple had planned this course of action if either of them contracted coronavirus.

Throughout the quarantine, the inquest heard, the family held Zoom meetings and socially distanced meals, but they began to notice a deterioration in Webster's mental health.

Photo taken in Bude, United Kingdom

Maureen Webster said her husband "changed completely" during his isolation. She said he became "paranoid and neurotic" and that a six-page note found at his bedside outlined how he struggled in the last days of his life.

She said before those days Jim would often throw back the curtains each morning saying it was a "beautiful day" even when storm clouds crowded the sky.

However, the former police officer had become paranoid about what his local community of Crackington Haven, Bude, would think of him and the couple's standing in the community if one of them was seen out walking down at the nearby beach with their dog.

Mrs Webster said it was "not like him to think like this".

The night before his death the family had held a socially distanced supper together and during it Webster had tried to reassure the family that his "thinking was getting clearer and he would be out tomorrow", the eighth day of his isolation.

However, on the morning of 1 April his wife took a coffee to the chalet and found a signed pinned to the inside of the door saying "don't come in, phone the police".

She said: "I knew straight away. I was screaming 'no, no, no' because I couldn't get into the chalet and the door was locked from the inside."

After fetching a spare key from the house the couple's son, Max, found his father's body inside.

Attempts to perform CPR were futile and Webster was declared dead at the scene by an ambulance crew.

Mrs Webster said: "I believe that Jimbo, in his right mind, would not take his own life. He had spoken so much over the years, given his experiences as a copper, about the devastation left behind when someone commits suicide. It's just unthinkable that this would be his intention - however, there is no denying the fact.

"I think it was a perfect storm. The psychological effect of the COVID-19 environment – media, fear, lack of control – as he went into his self-isolation, and possibly the neurological effect of COVID-19 found in a small sample of Covid-19 deaths."

She said he had written about being a "bad guy" which she considered an "absolute nonsense".

Webster's son told in a statement how his father had spoken with him at around 9.30pm the night before his death, saying he was going to watch television before going to sleep, making plans for another Zoom meeting in the morning.

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He said his father "did not have any mental health issues" before contracting what was believed to be the coronavirus, but since he had begun to self-isolate "he had become increasingly unstable - he had become paranoid, anxious, reclusive and at the best of his ability, given his situation, controlling".

"We were saying that throughout the week he had become unstable and this was the first time we had ever seen him behave like this.

"Of course, we have no idea the extent of his mental degradation."

Webster joined the police at 18 working for the Metropolitan Police, then as head of CID in Exeter, and as Plymouth Police Commander before returning to the Metropolitan Police for a promotion.

He flew between London and Cornwall each week.

The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

Today (10 September) is World Suicide Prevention Day. To find out more, click here.

For confidential support in the UK call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local Samaritans branch, or click here for details

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