'Pariah' police chief took own life, rules coroner

 

A police chief under investigation over allegations he sexually harassed female colleagues took his own life, a coroner ruled today.

David Ainsworth, 49, deputy chief constable of Wiltshire Police, hanged himself in his garage fearing he would "lose everything" and believing his family would be better off without him if he took his own life.

The £110,000-a-year officer had been removed from his duties and later placed on secondment after a series of complaints were made against him.

Mr Ainsworth was determined to clear his name but felt he was being treated as a "pariah" by the Wiltshire force, the three-day inquest at Trowbridge Town Hall heard.

David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, recorded a verdict that the high ranking officer had taken his own life.

"On the evidence I consider that the appropriate conclusion to record here is that David Ainsworth took his own life while suffering from depression," he said.

Mr Ridley ruled earlier that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which places a "substantial obligation" on the state to protect life, did not apply in this case.

This meant that the inquest could only consider the immediate cause of Mr Ainsworth's death and not the circumstances surrounding it.

Unison, which represents some of the women who made complaints about Mr Ainsworth, said they had been "badly let down" by the police and called for the service to learn the "very serious lessons" the case had highlighted.

The inquest heard details surrounding Mr Ainsworth's death but was not told the full nature of the allegations he faced.

Ben Priestley, national officer for police staff, said: "The death of David Ainsworth is a personal tragedy.

"There is also no doubt that the women who were subjected to sexual harassment by Mr Ainsworth were badly let down by the police service and the way it responds to unacceptable behaviour in the workplace."

Mr Ainsworth's body was found in the garage of the cottage he shared with girlfriend Jo Howes in Potterne, near Devizes, Wiltshire, on March 22 last year.

He had left Kent Police, where he served for 22 years, and joined the Wiltshire force in 2008 on promotion to deputy chief constable following the breakdown of his marriage to wife Emma.

The father of four was known for his sharp intellect and his ambition was to become a chief constable.

He had been shortlisted for the top job with Bedfordshire Police but withdrew in September 2010 when he was told about the misconduct allegations against him.

Mr Ainsworth was removed from frontline duties by Wiltshire's then chief constable Brian Moore, now head of UK Border Force, and put on secondment winding down the disbanded Forensic Science Service in Birmingham.

During the inquest Mr Moore defended the force and said Mr Ainsworth had been offered support in the weeks before his death.

As the investigation widened to examine Mr Ainsworth's conduct during his time in Kent and he discovered statements had been taken from around 50 colleagues, his mood darkened.

His family became more concerned about him and he sought help in January last year from a Wiltshire Police psychiatrist.

Mr Ainsworth was eventually signed off work, having been prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping tablets by his GP.

Ms Howes told the inquest how the investigation, which was conducted by officers from South Wales Police, affected him.

"He felt abandoned by a police service he devoted his life to," she said.

"He felt under scrutiny and made into a pariah. He felt ostracised from his organisation and he felt uncomfortable going out.

"He thought his employer was gunning for him and he did not know why.

"He wasn't the same David. He was shocked by the pettiness of some of the (allegations) that were included. David told me senior colleagues had told him it was a witch-hunt."

Up to the day before he died, he had looked at suicide websites on his home computer, including the "Ten Minute Suicide Guide" and also sent text messages to friends and family discussing his feelings.

Mr Ainsworth's estranged wife told the hearing how shocked she was when he visited his children in Maidstone, Kent, on March 16, less than a week before his death.

"Nothing had prepared us for what we saw. David was a shell of what he had been," Mrs Ainsworth said.

"The children were visibly shocked. In hindsight, I think he had come to say goodbye to the children."

Chief Constable Lynne Owens, who was appointed to act as Mr Ainsworth's "friend" during the investigation, said he believed he would lose his job and family and also discussed suicide.

"He said something like 'I've got to get a way out of this and I think I might have found one'," Mrs Owens said.

"I asked him what he meant and he said he couldn't carry on with the uncertainty and it would bring closure for his loved ones if he wasn't there."

Chartered clinical psychologist Max Kite, who works with Wiltshire Police's occupational health service, said Mr Ainsworth was angry that the investigation had reopened, believing it had been dealt with.

"There had been some investigation and there had been words of advice and he had been advised to go on some training in relationships and I think he felt the allegations had been dealt with, so to be opened again, he felt, was very unfair," he said.

Mr Kite said Mr Ainsworth was "bullish" about the investigation during their first meeting but his mood had changed by later meetings, although he did not think he was suicidal.

"I think he acknowledged that it was very evident that his behaviour had caused hurt to other people and I think he was very sad about that," he said.

Mr Moore said his deputy received support during the inquiry and he did not realise he had thought of harming himself.

"We were looking at the welfare arrangements of everyone from David to the other people involved in the investigation. We held board meetings to discuss David's welfare," he said.

"No colleagues or members of the Wiltshire team raised that it was on David's mind to harm himself. It was not raised by anybody, to the best of my knowledge."

In a lengthy summary of the evidence, Mr Ridley said Wiltshire Police had put in place appropriate welfare arrangements to support Mr Ainsworth and there was no "systemic failure" under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"It is clear from the evidence I heard that receiving details of such allegations was clearly not easy for David," he said.

"He was a proud, competent, committed and dedicated senior police officer.

"At the time the allegations resurfaced and fresh allegations made, he was in the process of applying for the position of Chief Constable in a different constabulary. He withdrew from that process because of the allegations.

"It is clear from the evidence of Mrs Ainsworth that David had aspirations to reach the top and that his career was pivotal and important in his life, arguably, without criticism of David, at possible expense of his family life.

"I am satisfied on the evidence that it would have been very hard for him to admit, even to himself, for the need of outside help and he did when he visited his GP on November 11 and was diagnosed with mild depression.

"Insofar as the 'general obligation' is concerned, I am satisfied that welfare arrangements were put in place and there was a system in place focused on addressing David's needs.

"This was a multi-layered arrangement involving the police through its sub-contractors, David's GP and also the support provided by Chief Constable Owens, in her capacity as a 'friend'.

"As regards the 'operational obligation', there is nothing to indicate those involved knew of a real or immediate risk to life as far as David was concerned or that they ought to have known of such a real or immediate risk.

"The fact that David has tragically died does not mean there was a systemic failure."

PA

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