Retired police chief took his own life, inquest hears

A retired police chief took his own life after he became ‘paranoid and neurotic’ while under coronavirus quarantine to protect his family, an inquest has heard.     

James Connelly-Webster, 58, was found dead in a chalet at the bottom of his garden in Crackington Haven, Bude on April 1 after self-isolating there when he began to display symptoms of the virus.

Mr Webster, who had been the Assistant Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police until his retirement, had returned from London to his home in Cornwall at the end of March.    

His widow Maureen told the inquest in Truro how her husband had developed a cough and a fever, and decided to quarantine to protect his wife and their children Max and Robyn. 

The couple had planned this course of action for if either of them developed symptoms of the virus. 

James Connelly-Webster (pictured), 58, was found dead in a chalet at the bottom of his garden in Crackington Haven, Bude on April 1

Throughout his eight-day quarantine the family held Zoom meetings and ate socially distanced meals together, the inquest heard.

But his wife and children soon noticed a deterioration in Mr Connelly-Webster’s mental health, with Maureen describing how he became ‘paranoid and neurotic.’

She said her husband ‘changed completely’ during his isolation, with a six-page note found at his bedside revealing how much he struggled in the last days of his life. 

Maureen added that before this shift, Mr Connelly-Webster would often throw back the curtains each morning saying it was a ‘beautiful day’.

In a statement given at the inquest, Maureen explained how when she met her husband in London in 1987 the pair would often go for coffee in the mornings.

She said they kept that tradition up with a socially distanced drink at the bottom of the garden during her husband’s isolation, but he became more reluctant to join her as the days passed.

He became paranoid about what their neighbours would think of him and the couple’s standing in the community if one of them was seen out walking at the nearby beach with their dog, she said.

The widow said it was ‘not like him to think like this’. 

Pictured: Crackington Haven in Bude, where Mr Connelly-Webster was found dead in April

Pictured: Crackington Haven in Bude, where Mr Connelly-Webster was found dead in April

The night before his death, the family had held a socially distanced supper together and during it Mr Connelly-Webster had tried to reassure the family that his ‘thinking was getting clearer and he would be out tomorrow’, the eighth day of his isolation.    

However, on the morning of April 1 Maureen decided she would go to the chalet with coffee on the deck.

Here, she found a sign pinned to the inside of the door saying ‘don’t come in, phone the police’. Mr Connelly-Webster was declared dead at the scene by paramedics.

Maureen said: ‘I believe that Jimbo, in his right mind, would not take his own life. He had spoken so much over the years, given his experiences as a copper, about the devastation left behind when someone commits suicide.

‘It’s just unthinkable that this would be his intention – however, there is no denying the fact.

Mr Connelly-Webster had developed coronavirus symptoms after returning to Cornwall from London

Mr Connelly-Webster had developed coronavirus symptoms after returning to Cornwall from London

‘I think it was a perfect storm. The psychological effect of the Covid-19 environment – media, fear, lack of control – as he went into his self-isolation, and possibly the neurological effect of Covid-19 found in a small sample of Covid-19 deaths.’   

After retiring in 2011 Mr Connelly-Webster joined the board of the NHS and worked with the Foreign Office around the world. 

Mr Webster had been a commander with the Metropolitan Police as well as Chief Superintendent of Plymouth throughout his career in the force.   

In a statement, Mr Connelly-Webster’s son Max explained how his father had spoken with him at around 9.30pm the night before his death, saying he was going to watch Game of Thrones before going to sleep.

Max said his father ‘did not have any mental health issues’ before contracting what was believed to be coronavirus, but since he had begun to self-isolate ‘he had become increasingly unstable – he had become paranoid, anxious, reclusive and at the best of his ability, given his situation, controlling’.

‘We were saying that throughout the week he had become unstable and this was the first time we had ever seen him behave like this,’ he said.

‘Of course, we have no idea the extent of his mental degradation.’

Mr Connelly-Webster, from Plymouth, joined the police force at 18 working for the Metropolitan Police.  

He then acted as head of CID in Exeter and as Plymouth Police Commander before returning to the Metropolitan Police for a promotion. 

At the inquest in Truro, acting senior coroner Andrew Cox said Mr Connelly-Webster had taken his own life following eight days of self-isolation.

He noted police reports which had confirmed the former police chief had become ‘increasingly unstable and paranoid’ before leaving a long and detailed letter for his wife, locking the chalet door and posting a message for her not to enter.

As a result of what was found by his son on April 1, the coroner said he would record a verdict of suicide.

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