Suicide soldier 'was victimised'

A TRAINEE soldier shot himself with his automatic rifle while on hated guard duty, an inquest heard.James Clarke, of Shrubland Avenue, Ipswich, felt victimised by the senior officer in charge of organising the rota to man the barrack gates, the hearing was told.

A TRAINEE soldier shot himself with his automatic rifle while on hated guard duty, an inquest heard.

James Clarke, of Shrubland Avenue, Ipswich, felt victimised by the senior officer in charge of organising the rota to man the barrack gates, the hearing was told.

The 18-year-old trainee electrician was doing his third 24-hour weekend duty in as many weeks armed with an SA80 rifle when he left his post and went into the woods to kill himself.

Lance Corporal Ben Coppin told the inquest, held at Windsor in Berkshire, how his friend moaned about the strictness of Army life.


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“He did not go home most weekends, which would make it more likely that he would be picked for guard duty at short notice,” he said. “I think he felt unlucky.”

In written evidence, Lance Corporal Wai Lee told coroner Peter Bedford his friend did noticeably more shifts at the camp gatehouse than other junior soldiers.

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He said: “James would often complain to me that he got unfair treatment. I think he was doing a lot more guard duty than me or the others.

“He would complain that he got unfairly treated by Corporal David Fraser, who organised the duties.”

However, Cpl Fraser denied he had ever picked on the young soldier. “I treat all my troops the same. It is possible he had three weekends in a row because he may have had to cover for people who were absent,” he said.

“I would reject any suggestion I picked on him. He wasn't someone I would have had any reason to single out.”

Mr Clarke, who had been stationed at Arborfield Garrison, near Finchampstead, Berkshire, for several months before his death on February 3 this year had talked about leaving the Army, the inquest was told.

His mother Jacqueline Clarke said: “He was fed up with the discipline and being treated like a child. He wanted to get out.

“He told me he regretted leaving school and was talking about going to university. But he decided to stay in the Army until he finished his course in May.”

Craftsman Billy Woods told the hearing how he, Mr Clarke and Craftsman Pankaj Guleria had been assigned to guard duty on the camp's western entrance between 6pm on Friday, February 3 and 6pm the next day.

“At around 9.45pm I came out of the toilet in the guard hut and could see James wasn't there anymore,” he said. “It appeared he had gone missing with his weapon. Two or three minutes later I heard some shots.”

The inquest heard how officers from Thames Valley Police's tactical firearms unit discovered Mr Clarke's body in a field at the back of some woods, a few hundred yards from the guardhouse.

He was clutching an SA80 automatic rifle between his legs with the muzzle pointing towards his face where four rounds had discharged.

Mr Bedford said there was no evidence Mr Clarke had thought about taking his own life in the months before February and there was nothing to suggest he had been the victim of bullying.

“I am content there was no direct targeting of James for guard duty,” he said. “In papers found in his room he does not specifically say he was being given unfair duties.

“I am satisfied that none of the evidence points to any systemic failure on the part of the Army.”

He recorded a verdict of suicide, saying Mr Clarke's actions were deliberate and the teenager knew the consequences of using the weapon in the way he did.

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