‘Embarrassed’ minister admits falling for ‘hoax’ Afghanistan veteran suicide letter

The Armed Forces Minister has admitted he was taken in by a believed hoax about a veteran suicide over Afghanistan.

During an interview on Monday morning, James Heappey said 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 Taliban takeover.

However, he later said he was “embarrassed” to have mentioned the letter in the media without having it verified.

A defence source said they did not know if the origin of the letter was legitimate, adding that “no record has been found of the person”.

On Monday, defence sources confirmed that Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, had instructed Defence Intelligence, Britain’s military spy agency, to look into the note due to concerns that it could be a hoax. 

Mr Heappey, a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan, had made his comments after seeing what appeared to be a genuine note posted on social media.

He said the individual concerned had been serving in the country when he was on his last tour of duty.

“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,” Mr Heappey told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

But apologies to you and @KayBurley for saying something that might not be accurate. Army & MoD working quickly to establish whether note is real or not.

— James Heappey MP (@JSHeappey) September 6, 2021

“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.”

Mr Heappey said that after originally discussing the note on Sky News, he was told “that potentially 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,” he said.

However, he insisted that his possible error should not detract from the need to support veterans of the conflict, many of whom were deeply distressed by the events of the past few 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 added.

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

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