News campaign sees results as MPs agree to discuss military veteran suicides

THE true scale of the UK’s suicide epidemic among its veteran community will be exposed to MPs after campaigners secured a parliamentary debate on the crisis.

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 2:38 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 2:42 pm
Danny Johnston

For months The News has been lobbying the government to do more to address the escalating number of armed forces heroes taking their lives.

Now, following our campaign and efforts by military groups from Portsmouth, city MP Stephen Morgan has finally secured an official Westminster debate on the issue.

Set to take place on Wednesday afternoon, it will see politicians discussing the crisis and working out how to address it.

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Viv Johnston, mother of special forces hero Danny Johnston

Portsmouth South MP Mr Morgan was ‘pleased’ to have achieved the Westminster hearing, and said: ‘This will be an excellent opportunity to show the government that more needs to be done to protect our serving men and women, and veterans.

‘It is clear ministers are letting down our armed forces personnel by not properly recording veteran suicide and I believe much of the support offered needs drastic improvement.’

The news has been welcomed by Viv Johnston whose son, Danny, took his own life in May last year following his time in the elite Special Reconnaissance Regiment. 

Danny, of Bognor Regis, had been part of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment before he joined the special forces, and served with distinction in the Middle East. 

Daniel Arnold and Stephen James, founders of armed forces support network All Call Signs. Photo: Ian Hargreaves

Viv, who has been among those campaigning for change, said: ‘It’s appalling that nothing has happened yet. It’s tantamount to letting people die as far as I’m concerned.

‘These politicians are in a position to do something about this and they don’t, they have left it to the families and friends of suicide victims.

‘So I think this Westminster debate is fantastic. I just hope MPs turn up to listen.’

Retired soldier Stephen James, who served with 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, set up armed forces cause All Call Signs in the wake of Danny’s death.

Working alongside his friend and fellow soldier Daniel Arnold, the team created a network of hundreds of ex-service personnel who could be mobilised to search for missing veterans believed to be suicidal. 

Speaking of the news of the parliamentary debate, Mr James said: ‘Barely a week has gone by in six months of campaigning, that we’ve not been reminded how important a rethink on military suicide is. 

‘The data being held by the government and the MoD simply does not reflect reality, therefore the services being built on the back of that data are falling short. 

‘We’re so thankful to Mr Morgan for giving us the opportunity to present the facts to the powers that be. 

‘We’re hellbent on ensuring the scale of the problem is fully understood at the highest level possible.’

Last year an investigation by The News revealed how Britain, unlike other allied nations like the US and Canada, had no system in place to record veteran suicide rates.

Campaigners and forces charities have criticised this and demanded that coroners record suicide rates of veterans - data which they say could be used to work out ways to save lives.

Since The News highlighted the issue, defence minister Tobias Ellwood announced the government would begin a study into suicide rates among veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

He also said in November that it was his ambition ‘to understand from every coroner whether an individual death is a veteran or not.

However, a follow-up investigation by this paper revealed how the Ministry of Justice claimed it was not feasible for coroners to record veteran suicides.

Next week’s Westminster debate is scheduled to take place at 4.30pm on Wednesday.