Hanged officer cadet warned of sack risk after suicide attempt, inquest hears

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An army officer cadet found hanged in her room was warned she could face the sack if her behaviour during a suicide attempt the previous year was repeated, an inquest heard.

Olivia Perks, 21, was discovered dead at the prestigious Sandhurst military academy in Berkshire in February 2019.

An earlier inquest hearing recorded her provisional cause of death as “asphyxia due to hanging”.

Her inquest at Reading Town Hall has heard she made a suicide attempt while drunk at a Royal Engineers visit in July 2018, but was deemed at low risk of reoccurrence.

During the visit, she confessed that she wanted to go in the sea, wanted to kill herself and asked for a belt and knife.

She also tried to swallow rocks and attempted to strangle herself.

The inquest heard alcohol was deemed to been the “contributing factor” in the episode, and she made a pledge not to drink while at the academy.

She was given a “dressing down” in a meeting and returned to duties two days later.

At that meeting she had to sign a letter saying her “suitability for employment” would be questioned if her behaviour was repeated, the hearing was told.

Major Chris Trezise, her adjutant at the academy’s Old College, said: “I don’t know quite how it has stuck in my mind, I must have been told, I remember being very clear that alcohol was the trigger, alcohol was the contributing factor.”

The inquest also heard little formal support was available to junior officer cadets, especially in their first term and it was not always clear what help was available.

Major Trezise told the hearing most officer cadets relied on padres, who provided informal welfare support, and members of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) for help.

Under questioning from Ms Perks’ mother’s lawyer, Mike Rawlinson KC, he said posters for unit welfare officers were in communal areas.

However he added: “There was the feeling that the welfare team were more focused on permanent members of staff, families of permanent members of staff and that the padres were more focused on providing pastoral support to the cadets.”

Mr Rawlinson questioned whether WRVS members “who provide much-welcome tea and coffee” were really the right people to be providing welfare support.

Major Trezise replied: “They are absolutely not tea ladies. The WRVS had a very good understanding of the welfare system.”

He replied “I don’t know” when asked if they had training or understand their duty of confidentiality.

The inquest also heard that in addition to Ms Perks, three other officer cadets in her intake were in inappropriate intimate relationships with their seniors.

All such relationships were banned regardless of whether sexual activity took place.

Major Trezise said he was “surprised” to hear of these three relationships and that they were “shocking”.

Ms Perks had spent the night with Colour Sergeant Griffith after the Falklands Ball on February 1 2019.

Both of them denied any sexual activity had taken place.

The next morning she missed a parade and had to walk past colleagues in her ball outfit from the night before.

Earlier on Tuesday, her friend, Captain Madeleine Brownlow told the inquest it was almost like Ms Perks was “on trial.”

She told the hearing she thought Ms Perks had been “shouted at” by the regimental sergeant major on her way back from the colour sergeant’s room.

Ms Perks was also in a relationship with a staff sergeant who worked in the academy’s gym.

The inquest continues.

– For anyone who needs help, Samaritans can be contacted for free on 116 123, emailed at josamaritans.org, or visit http://www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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