The grieving mother of an officer cadet found hanged at Sandhurst has accused Army chiefs of covering up the circumstances of her death.Weeping Louise
The grieving mother of an officer cadet found hanged at Sandhurst has accused Army chiefs of covering up the circumstances of her death.
Weeping Louise Townsend revealed the family’s ‘fight for justice’ following the death of Officer Cadet Olivia Perks, who killed herself after senior officers failed to provide adequate welfare support.
Concluding a three-week inquest, the coroner also criticised ‘missed opportunities’ by officers at the world-famous Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) to intervene as Ms Perks spiralled out of control.
In the months after her death, top brass tried to claim the February 2019 tragedy could not have been stopped. They also insisted RMAS staff conducted themselves appropriately towards Ms Perks.
But Ms Townsend was convinced her daughter’s death could have been prevented. So she hired investigators to dig into the circumstances.
21-year-old Officer Cadet Olivia Perks (pictured) killed herself after senior officers failed to provide adequate welfare support
They found an older male instructor, Staff Sergeant Mark Easingwood, indulged in a physical relationship with Ms Perks, in breach of strict rules banning any close contact between staff and cadets.
Sgt Easingwood was eventually sacked by the Army. So too was Colour Sergeant Lee Griffith who spent a night with Ms Perks, another breach of Sandhurst rules.
The family also learned that incidents of Ms Perks self-harming were not recognised as mental health episodes and hence she did not receive the attention she required.
A previous attempt by Ms Perks to end her life was also dismissed as an isolated incident.
Following the inquest today, RMAS Commandant Major General Zac Stenning acknowledged the ‘systemic and individual failings with led to the tragic death’.
For Ms Townsend, from Kingswinford, West Midlands, the complete picture only emerged as a result of enquiries by her daughter’s friends and relatives.
Her lawyer read out a statement which said: ‘The maternal family of Olivia welcome the findings of the inquest into her tragic and unnecessary death.
‘We have been fighting for the truth of what really happened since she passed. The story we were presented with at the start of this process by the Ministry of Defence was very different to the conclusion that has been reached by the coroner.
A previous attempt by Ms Perks to end her life was also dismissed as an isolated incident
Following Ms Perks’ death, Sandhurst overhauled its welfare and mental health provisions to cadets
‘We felt secure in the knowledge she would be safe for 44 weeks at this prestigious academy. Sadly, this was not the case. For the memory of Olivia, we truly hope the lessons learned from her death will foster change in the culture of the British Army and across the Armed Forces.
‘The last four years have been the hardest and most difficult journey we could have embarked upon, to lose our wonderful, vivacious and captivating girl, in circumstances we now know were avoidable.’
Following Ms Perks’ death, Sandhurst overhauled its welfare and mental health provisions to cadets.
Speaking outside the inquest in Reading, Maj Gen Stenning said: ‘Much more could and should have been done to support her. As an organisation we should have been better.
‘Olivia was a young woman full of sparkling promise, with so much life to give and we cannot begin to understand the unimaginable loss Olivia’s family have endured.
‘We are committed to being better and will consider the coroner’s findings to ensure we learn any further lessons to provide the best care for our trainees. This includes zero tolerance of the utterly unacceptable behaviours exposed by the service inquiry and the inquest.’
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