A former paratrooper who fell to his death from a Vietnamese hotel rooftop after using crystal meth may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, an inquest heard.
Peter O’Sullivan, 37, had served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan during a decade in the Parachute Regiment and it had left him with anxiety symptoms, the Gloucester inquest was told.
Two months before he died in Ho Chi Minh City on February 13 this year, he had sought help from the charity Combat Stress, where a mental-health nurse felt he may have post-traumatic stress and referred him to a psychiatrist.
But faced with a four-month wait before the psychiatric appointment Mr O’Sullivan, of Stroud, decided to return to Iraq to do a two-month stint as a close protection officer.
From there he returned briefly to the UK before flying to Vietnam, where he told relatives he planned to take a kite-surfing course.
He never went on the course and on February 13 fell from the top of the Liberty Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City onto the roof of a house and died from multiple injuries.
The assistant Gloucestershire coroner, Dr Simon Fox QC,heard that methamphetamine and another unknown drug was found in his blood at post mortem.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant which causes increased alertness, elevated mood and increased self-confidence.
Dr Fox said there was insufficient evidence to justify a conclusion of suicide or of accidental death.
He recorded simply that: “He died after falling from a tall building.”
After the inquest Mr O’Sullivan’s family said they were content with the finding and hoped the evidence that he may have had post-traumaticstress disorder would result in his name being listed at the National Memorial Arboretum. They are anxious his death should be remembered as a consequence of his military service.
The inquest heard that Mr O’Sullivan, who had married a Thai woman in Bangkok in 2012, had been involved in a previous incident when he tried to jump from a hotel roof last September.
It happened in Bangkok when he took drugs and went onto the roof but was prevented from jumping by staff and his wife.
In evidence, Mr O’Sullivan’s sister Angela Cleer said he had always wanted to be a soldier since boyhood and in 2000 he joined the Parachute Regiment. He later became a member of the elite Pathfinder platoon. He left the army in 2010 and started work in close protection in Iraq.
Effectively, she said, he became a tax exile who could only stay in the UK for 90 days a year.
He married in a Buddhist ceremony in Thailand in 2012 and all seemed to be going well until 2014 when she started to notice he ‘wasn’t good’ and things were ‘not going well for him,’ she stated.
The marriage was struggling and he was having bad dreams, said Mrs Cleer.
“I suggested he go and see Combat Stress but he didn’t show any interest in looking for help.”
She said in September 2015 she spoke to him when he was in Thailand and he had clearly taken drugs. He asked her to fly out and get him so she did because she was so concerned about him.
“He had taken a lot of drugs and had been trying to jump off a hotel but his partner and the hotel staff had prevented him from doing so. My understanding was that it was the drugs which had made him behave that way.
“He was very paranoid when we got there.”
He returned to the UK with her and saw his doctor but remained anxious and paranoid, she stated.
The following month he went on holiday with his parents.
Mrs Cleer said that on December 3 he went to Combat Stress and was assessed by a nurse and he also saw his GP, Dr Andrew Sampson again. He then flew to Iraq on December 8 for eight weeks’ work, returning to Stroud for one night before flying to Vietnam to learn kite surfing.
Mrs Cleer said she spoke to him in Ho Chi Minh City and he said he was bored and had not started the course. He kept putting it off from day to day.
“He never hinted at having any intention to harm himself,” she said.
But he did tell her he had spent a night in prison and he had a bump on the back of his head but he could not recall what had happened.
The family then received the news of his fatal fall.
Ian Coombs, a mental health nurse working with Combat Stress, said he assessed Mr O’Sullivan and got him to complete a questionnaire designed to find out if someone is a victim of post-traumatic stress.
Mr O’Sullivan’s total score was not high enough to say tha the did have PTSD – but he had indicated strongly that he was thinking of self harm or suicide.
“He also said that while in Gloucestershire he had been using cocaine and he had used it quite recently. He did not allude to using anything else. It is possible that such thrill seeking drugs could impair someone’s mental health. Crystal meth is also known to cause paranoia.”
Mr Coombs said Mr O’Sullivan met so many of the PTSD criteria that he decided to refer him to a psychiatrist to decide if he was avictim of the disorder – but there was no appointment available until April.
“I think he may have had a PTSD but I am not able to diagnose myself and that is why I asked him to go to see the consultant psychiatrist,” he said. “I was not asking everyone I saw to go and see a GP. I felt there was enough there for him to someone who could make the diagnosis one way or another.”
Dr Sampson said if Mr O’Sullivan had not been going back to Iraq on December 8 he would have put him on anti-depressants then. But he did not want to do so unless the medication could be monitored by a doctor.
Mr O’Sullivan’s father Anthony said: “Pete experienced some very severe military activity in Afghanistan. He came down with psoriasis and it caused him a lot of stress. He started to have a tic and facial problems during his service and that, to me, clearly indicated that he was suffering from PTSD.”
Mr O’Sullivan senior also said the family had been ‘very upset’ they were not told their son’s suicide risk factor although he appreciated there were issues of confidentiality.
“Had we known we would have said ‘forget going back to work, let’s just get you right,'” he said.
After the inquest Mr O’Sullivan said the family were anxious to establish that his son had PTSD so he could be remembered at the National Arboretum.
“We want his service to be recognised there,”he said. “To do that evidence of post-traumatic stress related to military service is needed. Although that has not been part of the inquest conclusion today we feel the evidence has helped us to achieve recognition for Pete.”
Friends and family members paid tribute to Mr O’Sullivan, describing him as ‘quiet and determined’
A handful of Mr O’Sullivan’s friends trekked the Malverns in early October to pay tribute to him and raise money for the military charity SSAFA.
Mr O’Sullivan, a former St Peter’s RC High School pupil, brother to three siblings, grew up in Gloucestershire dreaming of nothing else but joining the forces.
That dream came true and he served with The Parachute Regiment’s elite Pathfinders Platoon.
Tom Harman, one of the organisers of the Malvern trek, said: “He was a good bloke. He was quiet, but really determined, under extreme pressure he never faltered. He would carry the heaviest bergen (rucksack) but never complain. Even in an elite regiment like the Paras he was elite, but also a great friend.
“Going for tea and toast in the Falklands, playing squash, R&R in Nashville, a brew in the Iraq desert, adventure training in Cornwall, riot training in Northern Ireland, days at the ranges – countless other adventures – Ronnie was always there,” said Tom, now a father-of-four who runs his own building firm and whose mother lives in Cheltenham.
For sister Angie and brother Tim, sitting opposite, his words are another bit of a jigsaw of infinite pieces held by who knows how many people which help tell the story of their brother’s life.
His death has brought them together with his old friends and they want to support the fundraising expedition in aid of the charity which has supported them and continues to do so.
“We didn’t know if Pete had PTSD, but there a lot of signs that we can look back on now to indicate that he did have it. He was obviously suffering with mental health issues, which influenced his decisions once leaving the army.
“SSAFA has helped us to understand that so many of our veterans need support, but because of their training to be strong and never give up they often leave it too late before seeking help.
Pete was a top soldier. We’d like to support SSAFA so it can continue to raise awareness and help those who need and deserve their help,” said Angie, 40, who lives near Stroud, as do her parents.
SSAFA is the UK’s oldest military charity.
“He only ever wanted to do one thing, and that was be in the army. He left school worked for a printing firm in Stroud, but only ever wanted to head in one direction.
“He must have been 19 when he joined,” recalls Angie.
Her little brother went on to serve in Afghanistan, twice, Northern Ireland and the Falklands. As a Pathfinder he would have been sent further into enemy territory than any other soldiers and expected to survive for longer in the most dangerous parts of the world. He was also a medic and a tandem skydiving instructor.
Report shared by HanoiJack