Veteran suffering ‘harrowing’ Iraq war PTSD died after overdose, rules coroner

·5-min read

An Army veteran and much-loved family man suffering with “harrowing” post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his Iraq war experience died after taking an overdose, while heavily intoxicated, a coroner has concluded.

Lance Shingler, who had previously served in Iraq with the Royal Green Jackets regiment, later The Rifles, until 2007, died on February 13 last year.

Senior coroner Louise Hunt, concluding a three-day inquest at Birmingham’s Villa Park on Friday, said Mr Shingler had suffered from the “complex” PTSD he was left with after “witnessing harrowing, traumatic incidents” in Iraq.

Lance Shingler inquest
Lance Shingler with his partner Hayley Gough and their children, Riley and Elliey-Jaye (Family handout/PA)

She said: “I am recording a narrative conclusion, because I am not satisfied that I have sufficient evidence that he intended to take his own life.

“I am going to record that he died from an impulsive intentional overdose, while heavily intoxicated.”

His partner Hayley Gough, with whom he had two children, welcomed the coroner’s findings.

In a statement after the hearing, she said: “The family believe his death could have been avoided if he had been provided the appropriate care and treatment for his combat-related PTSD.”

Commenting, former veterans’ minister and Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who has offered support for the family, said: “At some stage Government will wake up and realise its duty towards those who serve.

“The challenges in care pathways and case-ownership are well known.”

Lance Shingler inquest
Lance Shingler died in February last year (Family handout/PA)

During the inquest, the coroner heard evidence of how Mr Shingler was under mental health treatment from the NHS from 2011 and, later, other third sector providers like charity Combat Stress.

Ms Hunt also heard that the discharge of Mr Shingler from mental health services, just days before his death, was “premature”, an internal review by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Trust found.

However the coroner said that it was “a matter of speculation as to what would have happened had he remained under (the Trust’s) Home Treatment team”.

Ms Hunt said: “It’s my view based on the evidence I have heard, that the start of the tragic sequence of events which led to Lance’s death were the significant traumas he experienced whilst on active duty with the Armed Forces in Iraq, resulting in PTSD.

“Thereafter, several agencies attempted to provide care and support to Lance.

“But due to the effects of the trauma that Lance had suffered he was often unable to engage with the services and often sought solace in the use of alcohol and drugs which could, when intoxicated, make him impulsive.”

Lance Shingler inquest
Lance Shingler with his children at the memorial to his former regiment, The Royal Green Jackets, at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire (Family handout/PA)

Ms Hunt, summarising evidence from a clinical psychologist at Combat Stress, said 34-year-old Mr Shingler’s experiences in Iraq “understandably had a serious traumatic impact on his mental health”.

The senior coroner said “everyone who came into contact with Lance noted his PTSD was complex”.

He presented several times to mental health services “re-experiencing those intrusive thoughts from military service”, punctuated with “high levels of anxiety and periods when he had frequent thoughts of suicide”.

Mr Shingler could sometimes be aggressive or violent and there were criminal convictions, when at times the ex-soldier’s underlying issues could “manifest in anger”.

Lance Shingler inquest
Lance Shingler was a soldier until 2007 (Family handout/PA)

There were several occasions between 2017 and 2020 when Mr Shingler’s records showed he had attended hospital, after either self-harming or reported suicide attempts.

In a separate referral in June 2019, he told mental health workers that “27 of his Army mates had died”.

Ms Hunt added: “Lance was impulsive and he drank to excess to cope with those symptoms and in the evidence I have heard, a number of those overdoses are associated with excessive alcohol abuse.”

In the run-up to February 13 2020, lorry driver Mr Shingler, of Stonebridge Crescent, Solihull, had a crash which led to the DVLA revoking his HGV licence, writing to him on January 30, which “had a significant adverse effect on his mental health”.

Lance Shingler inquest
Lance Shingler with his partner Hayley Gough, who previously said he was ‘the love of her life’ (Family handout/PA)

Separately, the charity Combat Stress “were advised to change their funding arrangements” for some mental health services, with money being “re-channelled back into the NHS”.

As a result, Mr Shingler, then awaiting referral from the charity to further services, was written to, advising he would be referred to NHS providers.

The letter arrived on February 9 2020, four days before his death.

Ms Hunt said: “Understandably, we know receipt of that letter did cause distress to Lance.”

Days previously, Mr Shingler had walked out of a voluntary psychiatric assessment after suffering a mental health crisis in the street, telling staff: “I won’t get the support I need here”.

On February 11, Mr Shingler went on a 30-hour drinking binge with a friend, which ended in him being punched by a stranger.

Later, he told his partner “he wanted to die”, took an overdose of prescription medication, and subsequently died in hospital on February 13.

At the start of the inquest, Ms Gough paid a tearful tribute to the “love of my life” who she praised as an “amazing daddy” to their two children.

Afterwards, Jeff Harrison, Combat Stress chief executive, said that in 2019 the charity was left 90% dependent on donations “after the Government redistributed its sources of funding”, and it had to “carry out a service redesign to scale back our services”.

Adding it was “not a decision we ever wanted to take”, he said new funding from NHS England meant it had “resumed taking new referrals” for veterans.

Help can be found by calling the Samaritans, free at any time, on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org or visiting Samaritans.org.