Prince Harry’s plea as veterans take own lives once every 13 days this year

Prince Harry has raised serious concerns about the number of British soldiers committing suicide after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Prince confided his fears about a recent surge in suspected suicides in a private letter to a decorated former war hero. His intervention comes as an investigation by The Mail on Sunday reveals veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now taking their own lives at a faster rate than their comrades died on the battlefield.

At least 12 veterans are feared to have killed themselves since the start of the year – one every 13 days. In contrast, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014 were killed in hostile action at a rate of one every 14 days.

Kensington Palace last night confirmed that Harry had expressed concern in a letter sent to Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult, 43, a leading campaigner on veterans’ issues.

How Prince has battled for fallen troops: Prince Harry, circled top, with Warrant Officer Nathan Hunt, right, in 2008 in Helmand province, Afghanistan

C/Sgt Coult, a former non-commissioned officer in the Royal Irish Rangers, was awarded a Military Cross in 2006 for his bravery in an ambush involving suicide bombers and gunmen in Baghdad.

The letter from Kensington Palace requested that C/Sgt Coult gather details about the recent deaths on Prince Harry’s behalf and pass on any information.

Such information is scarce because, unlike the US, the Ministry of Defence does not collect information about the deaths of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Harry, 33, who completed two tours of Afghanistan, also sought C/Sgt Coult’s advice on how military charities could work more effectively to stem the tide of deaths. Since leaving the Army in 2015, the Prince has focused his work on the creation of the Invictus Games and Heads Together, a campaign which seeks to challenge the stigma of mental health problems.

A Kensington Palace source said: ‘Harry follows these issues closely and is always keen to get information from a variety of sources.’

Welcoming the Prince’s intervention, C/Sgt Coult, a father of one from Suffolk, promised to launch a fact-finding mission on his behalf.

‘I’m delighted that Prince Harry has shown an interest at such a critical time,’ he said. ‘The number of deaths among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans this year is utterly shocking and an indictment of the failure of the Government and military charities to meet their needs.

Died at the age of 35: Christopher Butcher, with wife Laura, was diagnosed with PTSD and died last year

Died at the age of 35: Christopher Butcher, with wife Laura, was diagnosed with PTSD and died last year

The MoD doesn’t want to know how many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are killing themselves, that’s why it doesn’t collate the information itself.’

The spate of suspected suicides began with Warrant Officer Nathan Hunt, 39, of the Royal Engineers, who was found hanged on January 2. His death inspired our campaign which led to the MoD setting up the Helpline For Heroes in February.

It has since received hundreds of calls from troops suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues. Before our campaign, officials argued such a helpline would attract 50 calls a year at most.

Welcoming Harry’s involvement, Nathan’s father Derek Hunt said: ‘He knows what it is like emotionally to serve on the front line. He cares. It is a shocking reflection of the Government that there have been so many suicides among young veterans this year.’

Harry served with WO Hunt in Afghanistan in early 2008 as part of a desert reconnaissance unit. Following his death, the Prince expressed his heartfelt condolences to his family. 

The son of former England football captain Terry Butcher, Army captain Christopher Butcher, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

He was found dead aged 35 at his parents’ home last October following a battle with PTSD.

TRAGEDY OF IRAQ VET: Ex-Royal Marine Dave Evans, who served in Iraq, is suspected to have committed suicide this year

TRAGEDY OF IRAQ VET: Ex-Royal Marine Dave Evans, who served in Iraq, is suspected to have committed suicide this year

The suspected suicides of frontline veterans this year also include an elite Special Boat Service (SBS) trooper found hanged in his room at the unit’s base in Poole, Dorset, last month, and Dave Evans, a former Marine who served in Iraq.

British military operations in Iraq began in March 2003 and concluded in May 2011. During those 2,974 days, 138 soldiers were killed in hostile action. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, UK operations in Afghanistan started in October 2001. 

British troops marked the end of operations by handing over Camp Bastion on October 27, 2014. By then, there had been 405 deaths in hostile action over 4,775 days.

The MoD said: ‘Any suicide is a tragedy. Help is available for serving personnel and veterans through the 24-hour mental health helplines and we are spending more than £20 million a year on mental health services.’

We must ALL do more to help them

Comment by Lord Dannatt 

I am not surprised Prince Harry has expressed concern about this very serious issue. Anyone who has taken part in frontline operations, as the Prince has done, would feel the same way about an increase in suicides in the veteran community.

I would also commend Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult, a soldier decorated for his gallantry in Iraq, for bringing this matter to the Prince’s attention.

As with the death of Warrant Officer Nathan Hunt earlier this year, any suicide, particularly that of a relatively young veteran, is one too many.

There are helplines for veterans and serving personnel now, the latter following a successful campaign by The Mail on Sunday.

I would appeal to the families and friends of veterans who are struggling to encourage them to seek help or to inform service charities or their GPs themselves.

Don’t leave it until it is too late. Everyone close to someone in danger has a role to play.

Everyone realises there is a problem but nobody is complacent. The ongoing challenge is to ensure that those who need help actually get it.

We must all do more – the Government, the NHS and the military charities.