England

Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement inquest: Bullying 'factor in suicide'

  • 3 March 2014
  • From the section England

Bullying and the "lingering" effect of an alleged rape were factors in the suicide of a soldier found hanged in her barracks, a coroner has ruled.

Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, 30, from Bournemouth, died in October 2011.

The inquest heard she was "absolutely devastated" at a decision by military investigators not to prosecute two soldiers she had accused of raping her.

The coroner called for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to review its care for vulnerable soldiers.

Nicholas Rheinberg also highlighted "work-related despair" and a relationship break-up as factors in Cpl Ellement's suicide in his narrative conclusion at the inquest in Salisbury.

In a statement read outside court, the family of Cpl Ellement, who was found dead at Bulford Barracks in Wiltshire, said they were "delighted" by the coroner's conclusions and recommendations.

The Army has issued an apology to Cpl Ellement's family.

'Treated appallingly'

Mr Rheinberg said that although the care given to the Royal Military Police (RMP) soldier in the aftermath of the rape allegation had been of "high quality", the transfer of information when she returned to the UK from Germany, where she reported being raped, had been "unforgivably bad".

He said: "It is not the function of this inquest to make a determination whether Anne-Marie was raped - that may be for another court to determine - nevertheless, I find as fact that Anne-Marie believed she was raped and was deeply affected by what, for her, was a deeply humiliating experience."

However, the coroner said he felt this issue was not a significant factor in Cpl Ellement's death because she had shown an improved state of mind upon her arrival at Bulford.

He said Cpl Ellement had been subject to "harassment" from fellow soldiers during her final days in Germany and that it was "unduly optimistic" of her superiors to keep Cpl Ellement and those who accused her of lying about the rape in the same accommodation block without expecting trouble.

Mr Rheinberg said he would be recommending to the Ministry of Defence that it review its Suicide Vulnerability Risk Assessment procedures and ensure that medical personnel were given regular refresher training.

Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement
Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement's sisters Khristina Swain (l) and Sharon Hardy (r) campaigned for a second inquest into her death

The soldier's sister, Sharon Hardy, said: "The coroner has confirmed what we have always known - that Anne-Marie was treated appallingly and let down by the Army.

"She was never able to recover from the allegation of rape she made in Germany.

"She then suffered bullying by the Army and was subjected to unacceptable work practices.

"Victims of sexual abuse in the Army need proper support, which the coroner has recognised."

In a statement, Brig John Donnelly, director of personal services, said the Army "deeply regrets" Cpl Ellement's death.

"Although there were aspects of her care that were praised, I want to apologise to her family for the failures that the coroner has identified.

"We now have a clear understanding of the complex circumstances surrounding her death and where the Army needs to learn lessons.

"Our priority is to study the coroner's conclusions and then identify what further steps can be taken to help prevent this kind of tragedy in the future," he said.

An inquest in March 2012 recorded a verdict of suicide, but last year the High Court ordered a fresh inquest after the family sought a judicial review, claiming the rape allegations had not been dealt with in enough depth.

Cpl Ellement's mother, Alexandra Barritt, said her daughter had been "bullied, belittled and overworked and driven to the depths of despair".

"She lost her spirit and she was broken - she was very angry that justice hadn't been done and felt completely let down," Mrs Barritt said.

Human rights organisation Liberty, which provided legal representation for the family, said the coroner had recognised "terrible failings" in the handling of Cpl Ellement's case.

Liberty's Emma Norton said: "Soldier or civilian, your human rights require protection.

"Yet the Army failed this vulnerable, traumatised woman at every stage: an incompetent rape investigation coupled with a chain of command that repeatedly overlooked serious bullying and ignored her suffering.

"As long as the military investigates itself, this risks happening again."

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