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Suffolk: Suicide verdict after death of county council legal chief

PUBLISHED: 14:15 31 August 2011 | UPDATED: 14:37 31 August 2011

David White

David White

Archant

SUFFOLK County Council’s legal chief committed suicide because he could not cope with the workload that was being placed upon him, an inquest heard.

But one of a series of notes sent by David White just before he hanged himself cleared former county council chief executive Andrea Hill of any personal blame for the tragedy.

Mr White, 51, of Chestnut Close in Rushmere St Andrew, was found dead in Butley Woods near Woodbridge on April 4.

His body was found after he left a message for his wife Susan on their answering machine giving precise instructions about where to find him.

Coroner Dr Peter Dean read out statements from Mrs White and others at the 45-minute inquest in Ipswich yesterday.

Mrs White’s statement said that her husband had worked at Suffolk County Council as a solicitor since 1985. They had married in 1990.

He had always been very hard-working but over recent years the workload had increased.

Mr White worked very long hours during the week and usually worked Saturday and Sunday mornings as well.

A few days before his death the family had been celebrating their daughter’s birthday but Mr White had had to go to another room in the house to carry on working.

He had talked about the strain of his work, but had never given any indication that he was feeling suicidal.

On April 4 the couple had got up as normal and Mrs White thought her husband had gone to work as usual.

However when she returned from work at 5.30pm she felt compelled to listen to the telephone answering machine – that was not something she normally did.

Mrs White’s statement said there was a message from him saying: “Sorry, you will have to call the police.”

The message gave precise directions about where he could be found and it had been left on the phone at 10.30am.

Mr White’s immediate boss had been assistant director and monitoring officer Eric Whitfield until he left the council on March 31 – just days before the tragedy.

In his statement that was read out by Dr Dean, Mr Whitfield said Mr White had been involved in a reorganisation of the legal department of the council in the time after he was appointed interim head of legal services in January 2010.

This was needed to achieve a 30% budget reduction and required a great deal of stressful work and long hours – Mr White had been leading this and had managed to complete the work on time.

However once the proposals had been presented there was further scrutiny needed and this took up much more time and effort.

Mr Whitfield’s statement said that at the start of the year Mr White had been concerned about the library consultation.

In particular he felt the consultation was conducted on the basis the council would retain 15 when it had been decided only eight would remain open.

He was also concerned that the chief executive’s plans to appoint staff to senior positions under delegated powers would be unlawful and he felt “uncomfortable” raising this with her.

He felt – and Mr Whitfield agreed – that these appointments should have been made by a meeting of the full council.

Scrutiny officer Sue Morgan said in a statement read out by Dr Dean: “He was clearly concerned about what he was being asked to do by the chief executive.

“He was devoted to his work and I can begin to understand that his ethical beliefs and absolute desire to maintain the integrity of the council were being compromised.”

Mr White sent a number of notes which were found after his death, including one to Mrs Hill which cleared her personally of any blame for the events which resulted in his death.

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