The British Army failed a “vulnerable” officer cadet who killed herself after months of self harm, a damning report has found.
A Service Inquiry into the suicide of Olivia Perks revealed she was subject to a “complete breakdown in welfare support” while studying as an Officer Cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Ms Perks was 21 when she killed herself at the training establishment on February 6, 2019, having joined in May the year before.
During her time at the academy she committed deliberate self harm in the form of attempted suicide while “heavily intoxicated” on the morning of July 17, 2018, while away from the facility.
The inquiry, which heard evidence from 46 witnesses, including former Officer Cadets, Sandhurst staff and medical professionals, quoted one witness who was present on the night Ms Perks attempted to harm herself. They said: “I considered this to be a serious suicide attempt. I believe if I left her in the room unattended that night (Olivia) would have killed herself.”
In a letter written by Ms Perks she explained her behaviour was due to a “combination of alcohol and past events in my life”.
However, the inquiry’s panel said it had “seen no evidence that the past events in her life that she wrote of, were investigated or that she was offered specialist counselling to assist her with those wider issues”.
After assessment by the Departments of Community Mental Health, and the Chain of Command she was deemed “fit to return to training” the day after the events took place. She was subsequently registered on the Vulnerability Risk Management system and the College Risk Register, and a Care Action Plan was created.
However, Ms Perks did not meet or receive any support from the academy’s Welfare Department during her time there.
Young cadet was identified as 'vulnerable'
The panel believe that had an investigation commenced as soon the officer cadets present during the suicide attempt returned to Sandhurst, then “it is reasonable to assume that the seriousness of the various elements of self harm would have been known immediately” by the Chain of Command.
Instead, the inquiry identified “several unacceptable behaviours and actions” which occurred during Ms Perks’ time at Sandhurst, and that despite being identified as “vulnerable” she received “substandard management and support”.
Some months later Ms Perks attended a charity ball where she “drank to excess and awoke in the Sergeants and Warrant Officers’ Mess.
She missed the first parade and an investigation commenced after she admitted to the Chain of Command where she had been.
On February 5, 2019 Ms Perks attended an interview about the incident and the following day, while an investigation into the conduct was ongoing, she was found unresponsive in her locked bedroom.
'Extremely limited support'
It has also been found that a member of the Physical Training staff was conducting a relationship with Ms Perks during the intermediate and senior terms.
The inquiry also said that there was “extremely limited actual support or assurance of supporting staff activities which would have assisted” Ms Perks. They also cited the “exceptionally poor inter staff and departmental communications” around her.
They found that, while she was discussed at a variety of meetings, “no positive action took place thereafter to support” her.
General Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, said: “We all feel Olivia’s loss deeply, but none more so than those closest to her. I hope that they are able to draw some small comfort from knowing that this report will reinforce action across the whole of the British Army. Significant changes have already been made to improve Sandhurst’s culture, however, we will learn the lessons from this inquiry. We owe it to Olivia’s memory to do so.”
Sir Patrick added that he was “utterly determined” to foster the “culture needed to ensure that the British Army remains a great institution – one that is great to be in for everyone and one that maintains the trust, respect and affection of the nation we protect and serve”.
“Those whose behaviour is found to be unacceptable or is in breach of our values and standards, or those who wilfully ignore or tolerate such behaviour, will be held to account,” he said.
A statement released on behalf of Ms Perks’ family read: “Nothing can compare to the pain my clients have experienced, and continue to live with, having lost Olivia.
"They welcome any inquiry by the MoD which may shed more light on Olivia’s death, but still have a number of concerns and questions that they hope will be addressed as part of the inquest process."