General Lord Richard Dannatt admitted he was appalled by the number of people taking their lives in the UK and described the situation as a ‘tragedy’.
His comments came as he threw his weight behind JPIMedia Investigation’s award-winning ‘Veterans in Crisis’ campaign calling on coroners to record how many forces heroes kill themselves every year. Leading military and mental health charities said such data would save lives, and accused Whitehall of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the issue after an investigation revealed no such system in place in the UK – unlike the USA, Canada and Australia.
The investigation led to a major debate in parliament and secured a change in government policy earlier this year.
Speaking exclusively to The News during a visit to Eastney’s Fort Cumberland, the general said he backed the campaign ‘110 %’ and said it was something he had ‘pushed hard for’ in the House of Lords.
He said: “The coroners’ service ought to record people with a service background who have taken their own lives. I find it quite extraordinary that this has not been the case until now.”
Military charity sources fear 519 veterans in the UK have killed themselves since the start of last year – although there is no concrete figure to support this.
However, General Lord Dannatt, who was in charge of the army from 2006 to 2008, said the tragedy was not one exclusive to military personnel.
He said civilians, with no connection to the forces, were increasingly taking their own lives. “This is an epidemic of our time,” added General Lord Dannatt. “It’s a symptom of our time and the downside of social media, which can bring a lot of unwanted additional pressure on people.”
○ Those feeling suicidal are urged to call the Samaritans on 116 123, or email [email protected]