Northern Ireland

Ballykinler soldier 'wanted car crash to get rest time'

Rifleman Darren Mitchell Image copyright PA
Image caption The inquest is examining the death of Rifleman Darren Mitchell in 2013

A soldier who went on to take his own life at a County Down barracks wanted to be in a minor car crash in order to get some rest, an inquest has heard.

Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, was found hanged in his room at Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler in February 2013.

His death came after 30-year-old L/Cpl James Ross was found hanged at the same Army base in December 2012.

An inquest is examining the deaths of the men, who had previously been on active service in Afghanistan.

Both men were serving with the 2nd Battalion The Rifles.

The inquest at Ballymena Courthouse in County Antrim heard from Mr Mitchell's girlfriend Cher Kiff on Monday.

She told the inquest that they had been talking about getting engaged and having children.

She described Mr Mitchell, from London, as someone who "radiated warmth" and could "cheer anyone up" but said she had noticed a change in him in the months before his death.

'He reassured me'

Ms Kiff described him as feeling exhausted due to courses he was taking to become an adventure training instructor and because he had been having panic attacks.

"He made a remark about a car accident, wishing for a non-serious accident to be able to rest and build himself up," she told the inquest.

Ms Kiff said she asked him if he had ever had suicidal thoughts.

She said he told her that he would never take his life because he loved his mother and because he was a Christian.

"The way he reassured me, I just thought he was feeling down but I didn't think he would do anything like that," she added.

She also revealed that in January 2013 a medic told Mr Mitchell's boss that the soldier might have been depressed and advised him to keep an eye on him.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The death of L/Cpl James Ross in December 2012 is also being examined at the inquiry

The inquest saw text message conversations between the couple in the 24 hours before his death.

In one, Mr Mitchell said: "I spend 90% of my time on my own, I hate my life."

Ms Kiff was tearful as she recalled how he told her he loved her before he stopped responding to texts.

'Officer's sly comments'

The inquest also heard from a young soldier who was a friend of Mr Mitchell and had found him dead in his room.

Referred to as Soldier D, he said he was accused of being "selfish" by a senior officer after self-harming after his colleague's death.

Soldier D, who had been based at Ballykinler in 2013, appeared before the inquest by videolink from Leeds.

He described finding his friend dead as "heartbreaking" and said he was one of three soldiers who were later involved in self-harming.

After their friend's death, the three soldiers were sent twice to a barracks in Lisburn for a week to help cope with their loss.

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Solider D claimed that Cpl Mark Farragher accused him and his two friends of "bluffing" to get out of work.

He also claimed the officer made "sly comments" to them on parade and that other soldiers had laughed.

It made him feel "horrible" and he added: "They were meant to be there to help you and talk to - when they were doing that there is no one to talk to."

Solider D said that in another incident, Company Sjt Major Roger Webb called him a "selfish dick" after he had self-harmed.

Asked how he felt after that, he replied: "Even worse."

A Ministry of Defence barrister put it to Soldier D that other higher ranking officers had been supportive and that he had received medical attention and support from the Army.

Soldier D named two senior officers who were supportive.

The inquest continues.

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