Police cleared of blame as coroner rules Pc David Rathband took his own life
Officer was found hanging at his home 20 months after he was shot by gunman Raoul Moat while on duty
A coroner said police could have done little to prevent the suicide of a traffic officer who hanged himself after being shot in the face by gunman Raoul Moat.
Coroner Eric Armstrong urged those that had been involved in the case of Pc David Rathband, who was blinded in the 2010 attack, not to look back and said decisions made about his welfare had been justified by circumstances at the time.
Mr Rathband’s family had earlier suggested that he had been let down by the authorities and others during his struggle against his disability and that his death was preventable.
However, Mr Armstrong said Mr Rathband, a 44-year-old father of two, deliberately took his own life following repeated threats to do so.
"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,” he added.
Returning a verdict of suicide at the end of a three-day hearing in Newcastle at which the police officer’s estranged wife and his new partner gave evidence, the coroner said the shooting by Moat had been the “first step” which led to the tragedy.
The inquest heard that Mr Rathband had struggled to come to terms with his blindness and that his marriage had broken down after he met Lisa French, a survivor of the London 7/7 bus bombing.
Kath Rathband said the relationship put paid to their 20 year marriage. He moved out of the family home following a domestic incident but continued to bombard her with up to 100 messages and phone calls a day.
Some were abusive and she sought help from a domestic violence unit. On one occasion he threatened to commit suicide during a video call so that she could watch.
Mr Rathband became a public figure following the shooting. He set up the Blue Lamp Foundation for injured 999 workers. He was found hanging at his home in Blyth, Northumberland, in February 2012.
Family liaison officer Detective Constable Alison Brown, who became a friend of the Rathbands, told the hearing that although she was concerned for his mental state she did not think he was suicidal.
Mrs Rathband visited her husband on the night he died. She described how he looked “awful” and she and contacted his sister and his police welfare officer.
That evening, officers eventually broke into his home and found him hanging in the darkness, with music playing from his phone.
Ms French had also seen him earlier that day, and she told the inquest he said he had experienced suicidal thoughts, but had not been able to kill himself.
In evidence Superintendent Jim Napier, of Northumbria Police, said an officer was sent to check on him but because of previous threats it was not considered an immediate threat to life.
A Northumbria Police investigation into its handling of the case following a complaint by his family found no evidence of mistakes.
Speaking outside the hearing Mr Rathband’s sister, Debbie Essery, said the family would continue with its litigation against Northumbria Police on behalf of his children. “The loss of David has devastated our family. We will never be able to come to terms with this,” she said.
Northumbria Police Chief Constable Sue Sim said she promised Mr Rathband he could return to work as a police officer and had been retained on full pay since the shooting.
“There have been criticisms levelled at Northumbria Police during the inquest by some of David's family. 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,” she said.
In a statement read by her solicitor Mrs Rathand said his charity work would provide her husband’s legacy. She said: “Whilst I have lost David, he has left me with two amazing children and he would be immensely proud of them and what they have achieved, as I am. He would also be proud of the continued work of the Blue Lamp Foundation, the charity that David started so that he and other people injured in the line of duty could seek help. I know that David would be delighted with what has been achieved to date and this will remain his lasting legacy.”
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