Deliberate acts, not cries for help gone badly wrong

John Bercow
John Bercow
Share this article

COMMENT: A business community that is simply the best

Have your say

Gary Speed had only been dead about 48 hours when Joey Barton went in with all studs showing.

The QPR midfielder – who has become a bit of a two-bob philosopher on Twitter – expressed the view that suicide was a selfish act.

It wasn’t the most profound observation ever made and he wasn’t saying anything the rest of us weren’t thinking.

It’s just that the rest of us had the decency not to say it at such a sensitive time (plus an inquest has yet to conclude how Speed’s life ended).

Among the mangled emotions afflicting those closest to Speed is the overwhelming belief that they should have realised what was happening and could therefore have done something to prevent it.

In my experience of such tragedies – and over the course of a working life in journalism you get to cover quite a few inquests – this is not the case.

Suicides are rarely a cry for help gone desperately wrong; they are deliberate acts which often defy all reason.

This is why coroners always used to add the caveat ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed’ when recording a suicide verdict.

This implies that for a brief, awful moment the victims responded to an urge to act in a way which was so grotesquely out of character that a proper motive would be impossible to deduce.

Many years ago, while editing a weekly newspaper, I commissioned some crosswords from a highly-intelligent man who had fallen on hard times.

About six months later he decided to take a bottle of whisky and two large bottles of pills back to his lonely bedsit and end it all.

At the inquest it was disclosed that he had written a letter addressed to the coroner.

In it he had politely requested that the phrase ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed’ should be omitted from the verdict.

‘I know precisely what I am doing and why,’ he wrote – and the coroner complied with his wishes.

It was an unusually tidy end to a personal tragedy, because most suicides leave in their wake a grief made all the more acute by the irrationality of what has taken place.