Warnings over care failings in RAF after sergeant takes his own life
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A coroner has sent an urgent alert to military top brass over care failings after an airman hanged himself.
Sonia Hayes took the rare step of issuing a Regulation 28: Report to Prevent Future Deaths notice after RAF sergeant Paul Hills’ inquest.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF, and legal chief Air Vice Marshal Tamara Jennings were among top figures who were named in the document.
North East Kent assistant coroner Ms Hayes listed concerns she feared may lead to more deaths.
And three days after she sent the file, RAF sergeant Amy Womersley was found dead in a suspected suicide.
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston was named in the report
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Decorated Paul was one of at least 18 members of the armed forces, and 68 veterans, feared to have died by suicide in 2020.
The married family man, who was in his early 40s, was a member of the RAF fire service for 20 years and had completed two tours of Afghanistan before being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
He worked at RAF Manston in Kent and before becoming ill was active in the RAF’s Flaming Swords rugby team.
The coroner’s report said Paul was a victim of failures by his mental health team, starting with it not risk-assessing the decision to move his treatment online as the pandemic started.
It also stated his care plan had not been updated since October 2019, despite evidence of “escalating behaviour”.
By early 2020, Paul had suicidal thoughts. He told his team he had “strong thoughts to drive headlong into oncoming traffic”.
But the only advice he was given was not to drive with his wife and family in the car.
Ms Hayes stated: “This advice would not have protected Sgt Hills or other road users.”
Paul Hills was an airman in the RAF (stock image)
(Image: NurPhoto/PA Images)
In lockdown, Paul was increasingly withdrawn and told his medical team he did “dry runs” of suicide.
But the report said the team did not share this with his family.
Two days before he was found hanged in April, Paul told the team he was planning to end his life. But the report cited over-reliance on his family protecting him, despite being unaware of his suicidal thoughts.
And it said when he died, his risk assessment was not up to date –
and his suicidal thoughts were not documented.
Barrister Simon McKay said: “It is clear there were systemic and institutional failures within the RAF that led to a preventable death.”
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The Ministry of Defence said: “The death of Sgt Hills was a tragedy. We are reviewing the areas identified by the coroner and will provide a full response in due course.”
The Sunday People’s Save Our Soldiers campaign calls for an overhaul of how the MoD treats mental health in serving personnel and vets.
The Samaritans is available 24/7 if you need to talk. You can contact them for free by calling 116 123, email [email protected] or head to the website to find your nearest branch. You matter.