Coroner expresses concerns over police welfare after constable took own life

A coroner has expressed his concerns about the training of police welfare staff after an officer took his own life over the worry that he would lose his job after being informed he was to be investigated for misconduct.

Mar 17, 2022
By Website Editor
PC Doug Franks

Police Constable Doug Franks was found hanged by his grandfather at the house they shared in Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire, on the morning of February 10, 2021.

Assistant coroner Robert Simpson said that the 43-year-old, who served with Sussex Police, had been notified the previous day that he was to be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

The Portsmouth inquest heard that the father of one had a history of anxiety, depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing a nail bomb attack in the 1990s.

Following his death, it was reported that PC Franks was being investigated for breaching Covid-19 rules by meeting a colleague in a car outside work hours to complete “job-related paperwork”.

The inquest was told he had been “served papers” for misconduct but the hearing was not told the content of the allegation, however it heard that he had carried out internet searches that night for suicide techniques and also for “Police officer breaching Covid”.

His girlfriend, Emma Neal, a consultant nurse, said in a statement read to the inquest that PC Franks was proud to be a police officer but suffered from depression and would drink and go to the gym to help him cope. She added that he was a loving father who “adored” his son and that they would support each other because of their high pressure jobs: “Doug loved being a police officer and found it very rewarding helping those who self-harmed or attempted suicide,” she said.

Recording a verdict of suicide, Mr Simpson added that he was considering producing a Report to Prevent Future Deaths based on his concerns about the training given to police occupational health officers and welfare officers.

He was also concerned about restrictions because of data protection on the sharing of the mental health history of officers facing disciplinary proceedings.

The coroner explained that PC Franks had contemplated suicide previously in 2017 having faced a previous disciplinary matter. He had been prescribed anti-depressants and had previously been sectioned following earlier suicide attempts.

Mr Simpson said: “None of Doug’s line managers or the appointed welfare officer were provided with information regarding Doug’s past mental health history or his reaction to past commencement of disciplinary procedures, information that would have been relevant to the assessment of risk.”

The coroner said he would await further information from Sussex Police before deciding whether to issue a report, and added: “I am concerned about the disconnect in the provision of information, I accept there are data protection and patient confidentiality issues.”

However, Mr Simpson concluded that, despite his concerns, he did not believe the outcome would have been different as PC Franks had not expressed his intention to take his own life during conversations with his girlfriend, close friends and colleagues that night.

The coroner said that he believed PC Franks had been forward-thinking earlier in the evening, but added: “Later that evening that changed and that is likely to have been contributed to by the worry that he would lose his job combined with the alcohol he consumed.”

Speaking to PC Franks’ family and friends, he added: “I would like to express my condolences, he was obviously a good friend to many and no doubt his loss is felt keenly.”

If you are affected by any issues in this story, Samaritans can be contacted at 116 123.

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