The former England football captain Terry Butcher has accused the British army of failing his son, who died after developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Butcher told an inquest on Monday that Christopher, 35, had turned to alcohol and drugs after being discharged from the armed forces in April 2015, due to the mental health condition.
“Christopher passed away several months ago. But, in reality, the Chris that we all knew and loved had ceased to exist years before,” Butcher told Ipswich coroner’s court.
“Diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, his life spiralled downwards as the demons took control of his mind. In truth after intense tours of Iraq and Afghanistan he became a victim of war.
“These circumstances are all too familiar. Our country has a number of veterans suffering from the same condition, released from the armed forces too early and having to rely on an overloaded NHS that is ill-equipped and underfunded to cope.”
Butcher, who struggled to hold back tears during the hearing, said the armed forces’ duty of care towards personnel had been “discarded too easily, which has resulted in a growing number of our veterans turning to anything that might help including alcohol, drugs and suicide as a means of alleviating the flashbacks and nightmares”.
The inquest heard how Christopher, a former captain in the Royal Artillery, had been haunted by nightmares and flashbacks about the deaths of comrades and civilians in Afghanistan.
Butcher found his son’s body wedged between his bed and a wall when he went to check on him on the morning of 16 October last year at his home in Suffolk.
A postmortem failed to identify Christopher’s cause of death, but found he had an enlarged heart, which could have been caused by drug use. Toxicology tests revealed he had non-lethal levels of cocaine and heroin in his body, as well as prescription drugs he had been taking for several years. A makeshift crack pipe in a sunglasses case was also found in his room.
Suffolk’s assistant coroner, Dr Dan Sharpstone, concluded that Christopher died from an enlarged heart due to uncertain causes with a background of drug use and PTSD.
Butcher remembered his son as a man who had a “glittering career in the army ahead of him, a loving wife and dreams of having children of his own. His unnecessary death has deprived us of a wonderful son, husband, brother and grandson, friend and comrade”.
Sharpstone said: “When people serve in the armed forces, they give everything in the defence of our country and this may result in death or serious injury. However, it can also result in PTSD.”
- In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.