Portsmouth campaigners slam Theresa May for veteran suicide letter to city campaigners

DOWNING street has been criticised for its weak response to Britain’s veteran suicide crisis after campaigners questioned Theresa May.

Friday, 14th June 2019, 5:34 pm
Updated Sunday, 16th June 2019, 11:12 pm
From left, Stephen Morgan MP, Daniel Arnold, Viv Johnston and Stephen James holding copies of The News following a debate in parliament on veteran suicide rates. Picture: Tom Cotterill

The ex-prime minister had been under intense pressure to tackle the epidemic, which saw at least 71 veterans killing themselves in 2018.

Last month she was grilled in parliament by Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, who demanded her to order coroners to record veteran suicides.

His comment came after an investigation by The News last June which revealed Britain, unlike Canada and American, had no such system.

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In a letter to Mr Morgan – penned hours before she visited Portsmouth to mark D-Day 75 on June 5 – Mrs May insisted she took the welfare of military veterans ‘extremely seriously’.

But she admitted getting coroners to record the information would be a struggle and said there were a ‘number of practical and administrative reasons’ which made it ‘very difficult’.

‘Enquiring into past occupations would represent a significant change in coroners’ statutory duties and would require substantial additional work,’ she wrote.

Mr Morgan said her response did ‘nothing to address concerns’ about veteran suicides.

‘We need to see legislative changes that codify the recording of suicide amongst the veteran community in law, anything short of this is unacceptable,’ he said.

Last year the government vowed to increase spending on mental health support for armed forces personnel to more than £22m a year, as well as setting up a new veterans’ taskforce and 24-hour helpline.

But Stephen James, co-founder of Portsmouth-based military group All Call Signs, demanded more.

He said ‘a jump from £10m to £22m’ for veterans’ mental health was ‘still a drop in the ocean’ and questioned the ‘supposed pushback’ from coroners.

‘All evidence from coroners themselves is that they’re supportive of any legislation that helps reduce the suicide rate of our nation’s heroes,’ he said.

All Call Signs co-founder Daniel Arnold added the constant ‘back and forth’ had become ‘tedious’ and demanded ‘action and accountability’.

‘If we lose members of our armed forces community at the same rate we have in recent years, then the death toll to self-harm will stand at more than we lost in Afghanistan and Iraq combined, and that simply isn’t acceptable,’ he said.