Police chief rejects criticism

Times Series: Pc David Rathband, who lost his sight after being shot by Raoul Moat. Pc David Rathband, who lost his sight after being shot by Raoul Moat.

A police chief has rejected criticism of her force from the family of Pc David Rathband who took hanged himself 20 months after being shot and blinded by gun maniac Raoul Moat.

Some relatives of the 44-year-old traffic officer, who was found hanging at his home in Blyth, Northumberland in February 2012, have said more should have been done to save him from the despair he felt.

On the third day of an inquest at Newcastle's Moot Hall, coroner Eric Armstrong ruled he took his own life, adding that being shot by Moat was the "first step" in the series of events that led to his death.

After the hearing, Northumbria Police chief constable Sue Sim said she had promised Mr Rathband he could return to work as a police officer.

A role with the Roads Safety Unit had been found and he was due to start within weeks of his death, she said.

"There have been criticisms levelled at Northumbria Police during the inquest by some of David's family," she said.

"We fully understand the family's grief at David's death but we must refute any suggestion that we failed to support David or that the support we provided was inadequate.

"Such allegations are totally without justification. We provided the highest level of financial, welfare and rehabilitation support to David, far in excess of any legal duty."

The chief said Mr Rathband had been kept on full pay and received personal support throughout, and his welfare officer, inspector John Heckles, had tried to see him in the days before he died.

The police chief said the force organised help from a psychologist, trauma counsellor, rehabilitation experts, provision of specialist equipment and offered private treatment for pain.

She said: "However, the force can only offer such support - it was entirely David's decision whether or not to accept it.

"He was often very busy with other commitments such that he failed to attend scheduled appointments.

"At all times, we treated David with compassion.

"We are confident that we did everything we could in these exceptional circumstances to support David financially, medically and in every other way possible.

"David was a valued and skilled officer. We all repeat our deep sadness at his death."

After he was shot, Mr Rathband became a national hero, and set up his Blue Lamp Foundation to help injured 999 staff.

But after attending the trial of two of Moat's accomplices he lost focus. He had not had time to adjust to being blind, his wife said.

Late in 2011 she discovered he was having an affair with the 7/7 survivor Lisa French, which effectively ended the marriage.

Mr Rathband would phone his wife up to 50 times a day and begged her to forgive him.

She visited him for the last time on the night he died and was concerned about his well-being but did not consider he would kill himself.

She contacted his sister Debbie Essery and Inspector Heckles to say she was worried.

That led to a series of calls, and later that evening, police officers including Mr Heckles broke into his townhouse and found him hanging.

Before the inquest, Mr Rathband's father Keith said his son had been "let down" a nd Mrs Essery said her family did not accept that the police had no case to answer.

Mrs Essery and Mr Rathband's identical twin Darren, the executors of his will, are suing Northumbria Police for the benefit of his children, she said.

The coroner said: " The circumstances of his injuries (inflicted by Moat) are well-known.

"It is difficult, if not impossible, not to view the infliction of those injuries as the first step in a series which culminated in his death."

Mr Armstrong added: "Sadly I have to say I am drawn inescapably to the conclusion that David intended to take his own life."

That was partly because Mr Rathband locked the doors, leaving the key in the lock. This led Mr Armstrong to conclude it was not a "cry for help".

Also, Mr Rathband had made threats to kill himself.

The coroner urged people not to look back and consider what they could have done differently.

"Many people may look back, police officers and others, and with the benefit of hindsight, form the view that they wish they could have done something else," he said.

"Could I implore them not to carry that out?

"Decisions were taken which at the time seemed appropriate and were justified at the time."

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