Northern Ireland

Ballykinler inquest: Soldier 'became distant' before death

Rifleman Darren Mitchell Image copyright PA
Image caption Rifleman Darren Mitchell, who died in 2013, had become anxious, his mother told an inquest

The mother of a soldier who died at a County Down Army barracks in February 2013 has said her son was worried about his finances and had become "distant" in the months before his death.

Carol Mitchell was giving evidence at the inquest into the death of her son, Darren Mitchell, 20, from London.

Rifleman Mitchell was found hanged at the Abercorn barracks in Ballykinler.

The inquest is also examining the death of Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, in Ballykinler in December 2012.

Mrs Mitchell told the inquest at Ballymena courthouse that her son seemed "excited" and "enthusiastic" when he was first posted to Abercorn in 2010.

Explosion

She said he had served in Afghanistan from October 2011 until April 2012 and that on his return, he told her about two experiences which had affected him.

On one occasion, she said, her son and his colleagues were asked to collect body parts from a field and a tree following an explosion.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The inquest is also examining the death of Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, in December 2012

She said he was also troubled by another incident, in which he witnessed one of his colleagues lose his legs in an explosion while they were on foot patrol.

Mrs Mitchell said her son was supposed to be at the front of the group of soldiers, but had swapped to be at the back at the last minute.

She said her son was very busy when he returned from Afghanistan after he successfully applied for a job at the Adventure Training Centre in Ballykinler.

Insomnia

She added that when he stayed with her over a period of leave in October 2012, she noticed changes in him.

"He was clearly struggling to sleep. I remember him saying: 'I'm always like this now'," she said.

On one occasion, she heard her son roaming around the house in the early hours of the morning.

Mrs Mitchell told the inquest that he was "jumpy" and that while driving with his brother during a period of home leave, he was startled by fireworks set off for the Diwali festival.

Ms Mitchell described her son as being "hyper-vigilant" and said her daughter had witnessed him having a panic attack when he was in large crowds.

The inquest heard that Darren Mitchell died with about £6,000 of debt and was worried about the situation.

Mrs Mitchell said he had been owed back pay by the Army and was upset that this had not come through in December 2012.

'Isolated'

Mrs Mitchell said she did not blame the Army for her son's death and did not "want to rattle anyone's cage".

However, she described the situation as a "perfect storm" that led to her son's death.

She said that he felt "isolated" at the base and had told her he was concerned about other soldiers leaving the Army.

"He thought everyone was leaving, he was exhausted, his back pay hadn't come through, he had a row with Cher [his girlfriend].

"Everything hit him at that precise moment."

More on this story