Minister says he may have been wrong to say Afghan vet took own life

A Government minister has said he may have been wrong to have suggested a military veteran who served in Afghanistan had taken their own life in recent days because of their feelings over what had happened there.

During a round of broadcast interviews Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told Sky News he was aware of at least one former soldier who had taken their life “in the last week or so” in the wake of the takeover by the Taliban.

Mr Heappey, a former Army officer who himself served in the country, said the individual concerned had been serving there when he was on his last tour of duty.

However, appearing later on BBC Breakfast, he said the report he was referring to may have been “inaccurate”.

“Since I mentioned that to your colleague Kay Burley on Sky only 20 minutes ago we have had a number of reports that the thing I was referring to was inaccurate,” he said.

“We are looking very, very carefully at whether or not it is true whether or not someone has taken their life in the last few days.”

Speaking later on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Heappey said he had made his comments after seeing what appeared to be a genuine note posted on social media.

“A suicide note was shared on social media at the back end of last week which referred in very, very accurate detail to the tour that I served on which was with 2 Rifles in Sangin in 2009,” he said.

“Because it lays the blame (on) the words of politicians in saying that this wasn’t all in vain, I have spent the weekend thinking that my words on this subject might have contributed to the suicide of a colleague.

“After saying that on Sky News this morning I was told from a number of people who contacted the MoD (Ministry of Defence) press office, and an awareness, I think, already within the MoD over the weekend, that potentially that that suicide note may not be real.

“I am deeply embarrassed to have reflected on something which I had seen on social media and struck me as very true and had affected me deeply.”

Mr Heappey insisted that his possible error should not detract from need to support veterans of the conflict, many of whom were deeply distressed by the events of the past weeks.

“That shouldn’t take away from the fact that far too many service people have taken their lives in the last 10 years as a consequence of their service in Afghanistan, a high number from my own regiment, The Rifles,” he said.

“We can leave no stone unturned in making sure that we support out veterans because this will be an acutely challenging time for them when their service in Afghanistan will be called into question in their own minds.

“We need to reassure them their service was worthwhile and we need to get an arm around them as a nation to make sure they are supported.”

His comments came as Boris Johnson was set to announce an additional £5 million to help military charities offering support on mental health issues to veterans in a Commons statement on the latest situation.