Nottingham veteran who went missing from mental health hospital 'being failed by system'

Robert Cooper pictured in 2016
Robert Cooper pictured in 2016 -Credit:Supplied

The family of a Nottingham veteran who has been sectioned at a mental health hospital say he has been "completely failed" by the system. Robert Cooper was detained under the Mental Health Act at Highbury Hospital at the beginning of May following a deterioration in his mental health since leaving the military in 2018.

The 32-year-old went missing while on authorised leave from the hospital on Friday, May 3, before being found by police the following day. His family, from Clifton, say they were "dumbfounded" by the decision to grant the leave, which they were not informed of, describing Robert as "paranoid" and a potential danger to others and himself.

His younger brother, Morgan, accused both the NHS and the military of failing to offer enough support over the last six years. "He's not in a good way, I feel like the system has failed him," said the 22-year-old.

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"You can see the decline over time, he's getting worse and worse, where is it going to stop?" Both Nottinghamshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (NHFT) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said they were unable to comment on individual cases.

Robert, a lance corporal for the Intelligence Corps, was discharged from the military in 2018 on medical grounds due to having bipolar disorder, his family said. "He seemed broken, like his life was falling apart in front of him," recalled Morgan, who said his older brother being in the military was "all he knew" growing up.

"He had split from his girlfriend and had no job. He turned to drugs and became very paranoid." Morgan described his brother as starting to get aggressive at home, on one occasion locking all the doors and walking around with a knife, which led to him being sectioned in January 2020.

"We would have to lock the windows because he thought someone would use tear gas and would tape all the cameras on our phones," Morgan said. He added his brother seemed to have "severe PTSD" and once threw hot tea over his mum.

Robert, who was eventually told to leave the family home, was in and out of mental health hospitals before being given his own flat in Clifton. Morgan said a police raid of the property around five weeks ago led to the discovery of a dead wild bird in his fridge.

Robert during a military group shot
Robert was discharged from the military in 2018 -Credit:Supplied

He said this took place after his brother was arrested while in possession of a hammer and a knife. Robert was detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act at Highbury Hospital at the start of May, before absconding days later.

His mum Mandy Cooper, 50, said she was "dumbfounded" to learn he was allowed leave after he had gone missing. "I wasn't aware that he was going out on his own, I can't get my head around it," she said.

"It's a horrible way to live. He needs professional help, to take medication and maybe given assisted living. It has an impact on the whole family.

"People sometimes take advantage of him, he's had things taken from his flat. He's vulnerable and he could be dangerous."

Commenting on his absconding, Morgan added: "It's awful, how and why is this allowed to happen? They have absolutely failed in my brother's care, the people who allowed that to happen need to be held responsible.

"It's lucky he didn't end up doing something stupid." He said it was tough to see the decline of his brother, who he described as his "role model", adding: "He looked out for the whole family and pushed us to do better.

"Will it stop with him hurting someone or he ends up killing himself and it's another veteran lost to mental health? He told doctors he was going to swim to the Trent on his birthday in August.

"The first time he was sectioned he was seriously ill. Why was there not more support then? Now it's going to take months or potentially years to get Robert back. The whole crisis team system failed him.

"The NHS has completely failed him and I believe the military has too. The last six or so years of his life have been full of misery and loneliness. Our family has become numb to everything he's done."

Entrance to Highbury Hospital in Highbury Vale, near Bulwell in Nottingham
Highbury Hospital in Highbury Vale, near Bulwell in Nottingham -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

Becky Sutton, chief operating officer at NHFT, said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases due to patient confidentiality, however what we can say in terms of procedure in cases such as this, is that if a patient fails to return from clinically approved section 17 leave, we follow a set protocol, working with our partners in the police to locate and return the patient. If families have questions or concerns about the care of their loved ones, we would encourage them to speak to the clinicians caring for them or our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)”

A Government spokesperson said: “We know that many ex-service personnel transition successfully to civilian life, but some understandably require more support than others. To make this country the best place in the world to be a veteran, this Government is committed to ensuring there are specialist healthcare professionals that can easily identify and understand veterans' needs."

They said the MoD was working closely with NHS England to deliver initiatives such as Op COURAGE, a mental health pathway for veterans.