Suicide of Falklands veterans

by ALUN REES, Mail on Sunday

A shocking little-known toll of the Falklands War is revealed today, 20 years on.

More veterans have taken their own lives since the South Atlantic conflict ended than the number of Servicemen killed in action.

The alarming statistic emerged in the wake of the horrifying suicide of Charles 'Nish' Bruce, an SAS hero of the Falklands and one of the world's top freefall experts, who leapt to his death from a light aircraft last week.

And with allegations that the Ministry of Defence has tried to ignore the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which leaves many sufferers emotionally scarred and unable to work, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a High Court case brought by 260 former Servicemen against the MoD will begin on March 1.

They are claiming their condition was not diagnosed or treated while they were still serving and that they were never warned about the effects on their enlistment or discharge from the Forces.

Nor, they say, were they ever given any presentations or debriefings to prepare them for the possible effects.

The case will be heard against a background of growing disquiet about the suicide rate among former combat soldiers brought sharply into focus by the death of 46-year-old Nish Bruce.

SAMA - the South Atlantic Medal Association, which represents and helps Falklands veterans - believe some 264 veterans have now taken their own lives. This contrasts with the 255 who died on active service.

Les Standish, SAMA's North-West representative who was decorated with the Military Medal for his gallantry during the Battle of Goose Green, was a friend of Bruce. He tried to help him when he first became ill with PTSD some six years ago.

The former 2 Para Lance Corporal said: 'I know that around 37 former Paras who served in the Falklands have killed themselves. There will be others. I'm afraid that the crop of documentaries on television in the run-up to the 20th anniversary will lead to a rash of suicides.'

'There seems to be a general pattern to what happens. Recurring nightmares and flashbacks followed by a recourse to heavy drinking or drugs then crime.

'A lot of the people I know ended up in prison often for violenceand some of them killed themselves in their cells. Six years ago I went with another SAS hero called John G who was Bruce's best friend and we found him down and out on the streets. He'd turned into a violent drunk.'

Mr Standish went on: 'Looking back there may have only been one tragic result for Nish. I know that he tried to kill himself by burning himself to death and he even tried to drown himself in his bath. Recently the lads tell me he was having electric shock therapy.'

Solicitor Richard Lawson, of Manchester legal firm Linder Myers who is leading the group action, said: 'I'm aware that there is a high suicide rate.

'Our action is for surviving veterans of the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Gulf who have suffered PTSD and a fivemonth trial of the issues will begin on March 1.'

Dr Dafydd Jones, medical director of the Ty Gwyn Clinic for ex-servicemen in Llandudno, North Wales, treated Bruce. He said: 'The terrible suicide rate is a scandal. I hope the High Court action will make the MoD take this problem seriously.'

An MOD spokesman said: 'We don't want to comment on the impending legal action but we do acknowledge that some members of the Armed Forces may be subjected to trauma and suffer as a result. We have systems in place to cope with this.'

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