Soldier ‘told to man up’ amid pressure at work took his own life, inquest hears

A British soldier who felt under increasing pressure to fulfil his Army duties hanged himself, an inquest heard.

Rifleman Mitchell Matthews had requested time off to look after his daughter during lockdown after his student nurse wife Katy had been called up to the NHS frontline.

The 24-year-old soldier was given time off by the military while she worked shifts of up to 13 hours at a nearby hospital, a coroner was told.

But in the days leading up to his death he felt he was coming under increasing pressure to fulfil his Army duties, at one point being told to ‘man up’, his widow said.

He was also told he would not advance in his career if he did not make more effort, she said.

Mrs Matthews told Wiltshire and Swindon coroner’s court how she had been drafted in to help at Salisbury District Hospital during the pandemic last year.

At the time her husband was serving as part of D Company 5 Rifles battalion at Bulford camp, Wilts and the family were living in married quarters at the base.

She said that at first the Army did give Rfn Matthews some time off as he suddenly had to take more responsibility with caring for their daughter, allowing him to attend duties when he could.

However, he missed a driving course because it was half term for the schools, even asking his wife if she could change shifts so he could attend.

“At the end of the day it was just too much pressure in such an uncertain time,” Mrs Matthews told the Salisbury hearing.

“He was struggling and he was told to man up.

“Mitchell was allowed time off but as time went on he started to receive more calls. He could only attend during hours when our daughter was at school.

“We had no other support, we were away from our family and at this point households were not allowed to mix. He was told that he wouldn’t progress in his career as he wasn’t giving enough effort.

“My husband’s passion for the army went beyond just a job. He wanted to make a difference. He often explained that he was not treated like a man with family responsibilities.”

She added that, during lockdown, Rfn Matthews started drinking alcohol alone and playing video games until the early hours of the morning and ‘became distant from people around him’.

The couple started to experience difficulties in their marriage, the inquest heard.

One day Rfn Matthews had overslept because he had been drinking and playing video games and so had not taken his daughter to school. This led to his wife asking him to leave the marital home.

The inquest heard that the Army provided counselling and marriage support for the pair, but Katy emailed the welfare team at Bulford, saying she was concerned with a ‘lack of support during lockdown’ and ‘bullying’ of Mitchell over his inability to attend his duties as regularly as before.

She said the army was ‘neglecting their duty of care to him’.

She said she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t placed on a high risk list by the welfare team or why he was told to stay in quarters on his own.

The inquest heard that in July last year his wife and daughter went on holiday having made plans for Rfn Matthews to join them the following week.

The day after their departure he went out for drinks with his colleagues in Amesbury.

Those that were with him that evening said he was in ‘high spirits’, ‘seemed fine’ and ‘appeared nothing was wrong with him’.

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But later that night he messaged a friend on WhatsApp, saying: “I’m pretty gone, but I feel like ending it all.”

The next day, after this message was seen, army officers and military police went to the family’s quarters – which Rfn Matthews had been allowed to return to in his wife’s absence – and found his body.

An Army chaplain told the inquest that he had been in almost constant contact with Rfn Matthews in the lead up to his death.

Matthew Dietz explained that he had been speaking to the couple about working on their marriage and had arranged extra time off for the soldier so that they could enjoy a family holiday together.

He said: “He didn’t make any comment about being bullied.

“I had absolutely no indication from Mitchell that he was considering suicide.

“My judgement is that Mitchell’s death was unpredictable and unpreventable.”

Assistant Coroner for Wiltshire & Swindon Ian Singleton adjourned the hearing and will deliver a conclusion at a later date.