‘Haunted’ Army officer hanged himself at his Topsham home

PUBLISHED: 15:35 22 August 2017

County Hall in Exeter.

County Hall in Exeter.


A retired Army officer found hanged at his Topsham home had been haunted by what he saw in combat, an inquest heard. Former Lt Col Michael Russell also suffered from anxiety and depression and was grieving for his wife of 32 years, who died after being terminally ill.

A retired senior Army officer from Topsham who had been ‘haunted’ by some of his military experiences, hanged himself after suffering from anxiety and depression, an inquest has heard.

Former Lt Col Michael Russell also suffered from the death of his wife of 32 years.

Tuesday’s inquest, at County Hall, Exeter, heard how the former Devon and Dorset officer, who was also in the Intelligence Corps, hanged himself at his home in Retreat Drive Topsham, Devon, in February.

His brother Christopher Russell questioned whether some of things he had experienced in the military had been factors.

He told the coroner: “He saw a lot of things in Bosnia which he was very upset about.”

The coroner said there were ‘unpleasant experiences which haunted him subsequently’.

A psychotherapist who saw Mr Russell for two years said the 63-year-old started seeing her when his wife Ursula died from a terminal illness.

Psychotherapist Angela Avis said Lt Col Russell suffered from complex issues which impaired his mourning process.

She said he was also experiencing ‘distressing memories associated with his military career causing him to question his fundamental beliefs and values’.

She said in her opinion he was experiencing ‘exaggerated grief reaction’.

She said he felt guilt and self blame and was even reluctant to change things in his home because he felt it would be a ‘betrayal’.

He suffered a panic attack on a flight home to the UK from a long holiday in Australia a month before he died, but said he had no plans to kill himself.

Although financially very secure, the inquest heard he ‘wanted to die’ as his only escape but said he was not brave enough to do it.

The court heard he spent 45 years in the Army achieving high rank.

The coroner was told he Mr Russell found retirement from that rigid military structure destabilising because he had lost his position of purpose.

His new partner, Judy Day, said Michael had a ‘bad couple of years after his wife died and his mental health took a dip.

Exeter and greater Devon coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said Mr Russell was ‘the author of his own demise and was satisfied that he had reached the point where he could not continue’ and had left a note indicating his intentions.

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