An officer cadet at Sandhurst military academy, Olivia Perks, 21, tragically took her own life on February 6, 2019, highlighting the missed opportunities by the Army to provide adequate support. The coroner’s conclusion revealed a “complete breakdown in welfare support” during her time at the academy. Her mother expressed deep distress upon discovering the failures in Army welfare support for her daughter. The Army, acknowledging its systemic and individual failings, expressed deep remorse for the tragic outcome.
Missed Opportunities and Lack of Support
During the inquest held at Reading Town Hall over a span of 16 days, it was disclosed that Olivia Perks had felt overwhelming embarrassment following a night spent in an officer’s room after attending the Falklands Ball. The chain of command missed an opportunity to have her seen by a doctor after that incident. Furthermore, it was revealed that the risks to Olivia were not managed in accordance with the Army’s policy for the risk management of vulnerable individuals. The coroner emphasized that a medical assessment should have been requested but was not, despite the potential preventive measures that could have been implemented.
Previous Suicide Attempt and Inadequate Response
Ms. Perks had previously attempted to end her life during a visit to the Royal Engineers in Dorset. However, she was deemed at “low risk” of repeating such behavior and was warned of the consequences should she engage in similar actions again. Although she resumed her duties two days later, the court heard that the chain of command at Sandhurst was not shown the report detailing her interview, leaving only a welfare officer and a departed commander with access to it. This lack of communication and dissemination of critical information contributed to the breakdown in welfare support.
Heartbreaking Family Journey
Louise Townsend, Olivia Perks’ mother, expressed the agony of the family’s journey, encompassing the failures in welfare support, from fellow cadets to the lack of adequate help. The revelation that her daughter’s death could have been avoided with appropriate assistance and support was incredibly difficult to comprehend. Olivia Perks, a highly regarded cadet, had dedicated herself to officer training and was held in high regard. The family had reservations about her joining the military, but they trusted that she would be safe and well-supported during her 44-week course. The realization that things were not as they should have been has been devastating for her family.
While Sandhurst academy had been rated as outstanding by education watchdog Ofsted, the inquest brought to light the insufficient allocation of resources for welfare support. With only one welfare officer for 2,500 individuals, it was deemed irresponsible by Lt Col Rupert Whitelegge, former commander of the academy’s Old College. Colonel Robert Manuel, president of the internal inquiry into Ms. Perks’ death, confirmed a complete breakdown in welfare support at Sandhurst, further emphasizing the need for improved measures.
Army’s Apology and Commitment to Change
Following the coroner’s inquest, Major General Zac Stenning, an Army spokesperson, expressed profound regret for the systemic and individual failings that led to Olivia Perks’ tragic death. Acknowledging that more should and could have been done to support her, the Army promised to learn from this incident to provide the best possible leadership and care for soldiers, officers, and trainees. Major General Stenning emphasized the commitment to zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviors and highlighted the vast improvements in supervisory care for officer cadets at Sandhurst. The Army aims to honor Olivia Perks’ memory and ensure the safety and well-being of all personnel.