Mum's plea over probe into son's suicide

A MOTHER searching for answers over her teenage son's army suicide today called on defence chiefs to shed light on their investigation into his death.

A MOTHER searching for answers over her teenage son's army suicide today called on defence chiefs to shed light on their investigation into his death.

Fifteen months after James Clarke shot himself while on guard duty at an army barracks, his distraught mum is still waiting to hear if new measures have been put in place to prevent similar tragedies.

Today Mrs Clarke, from Ipswich, said each day she waits for answers extends her pain. She called on the Ministry of Defence to speed up the inquiry into her son's death.

She said: “They have been saying it is imminent since last November.

“It is 15 months since it happened but I don't know whether anything has changed in that time. It's taking too long.”

Craftsman Clarke, a former Farlingaye High School pupil, shot himself on February 3 last year while on guard duty at Arborfield Garrison Barracks in Berkshire where he had been training to become an electrician.

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In the months before his death he had complained of poor living conditions and had spoken of wanting to leave the army.

An inquest held in Windsor last June found that the 18-year-old had committed suicide. Soon after his death, the army convened a Board of Inquiry to determine what happened and whether anything could be learned from the death.

Once that Board of Inquiry is completed, recommendations will be passed to the army's Headquarters Land Command at Wilton, Wiltshire, for consideration over whether procedures need to be changed.

Mrs Clarke, who lives in Shrubland Avenue, accepts the verdict of the inquest into her son's death but has appealed to the army to take greater care of young soldiers who are unhappy with army life and to allow them to carry out guard duty in pairs.

The 47-year-old sales technician is haunted by the thought of her son, unhappy with his life away from home, left alone with an SA80 automatic rifle.

She said: “They don't seem to care an awful lot. They just seem to pass it off as one of those things.

“I feel they have fallen down in some way. There's not been adequate support for somebody who is on guard duty.

“My biggest worry is that I've put these things to them and they haven't looked at them.

“I didn't know how long it would take but I assumed once the inquest was over then a month or a couple of months later they would be back to me but that would have been August last year. It feels like you are bashing your head against a brick wall.”

Have you been through a similar experience? What do you think of this case? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

DEFENCE minister Adam Ingram wrote about Jackie Clarke's concerns over the army's care of young soldiers.

In a letter dated March 30, Mr Ingram said: “Mrs Clarke is understandably concerned about the welfare of recruits, following the tragic death of her son.

“Just as in society as a whole, the Armed Forces will never be able to eradicate the incidence of suicide. But suicide is not endemic in the Armed Forces.

“There have been 57 suicides/open verdict details in the male Armed Forces population for the period 2002 to 2005. This is a rate of 7.6 per 100,000 strength in the UK armed forces. The rate for the UK male population for the same period is 20.4 per 100,000 population.

“I can assure Mrs Clarke that we are determined to make continual improvement and that we have embraced internal and external scrutiny and suggestions on how to improve our training regime. The army continues to update its guidance and procedures on the prevention and management of suicide and self-harm.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The board of enquiry is still being staffed by the army and will be issued to family shortly.”

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