An inquest has heard how a police officer killed his three-year-old son and then took his own life, after the Covid pandemic left him struggling with his mental health.
The bodies of David Louden, 39, and three-year-old Harrison were found at their home in Kidderminster on August 13 last year, Worcestershire Coroner’s Court was told.
Louden had written to his wife, saying: "Covid ruined everything including Harrison's hope of proper support.
"I'm worried Harrison's mental health will deteriorate so I'm taking him with me to the angels," he added.
Louden, who was a sergeant with West Mercia Police, became depressed during lockdowns and was worried about his son who had significant speech issues and was suspected of being autistic.
He had to shield during one of the lockdowns and his wife said it had driven him mad.
The county’s senior coroner, David Reid, heard on Thursday that Louden had been prescribed anti-depressants but had decided not to take them.
The inquest was told there was no evidence of third party involvement in the tragedy, which was discovered after Louden's wife Samantha, who was away from their home on a family holiday, alerted a friend that he was not answering her messages.
Mr Reid also heard evidence that Harrison was believed to have autistic spectrum disorder, with his parents engaging with the health authorities to seek help for him.
Harrison had significant speech and language issues and had been referred to specialists, but many of the consultations were not face to face because of Covid, which concerned his father.
In August last year, the family went on holiday to Wales - with Mrs Louden's two other children and Louden's parents - but Harrison didn't settle being in an unfamiliar environment so Louden and his wife brought him back to their home in Kidderminster.
Mrs Louden then drove back to Wales to be with her two other children.
The next morning she telephoned her husband several times but he didn't answer so she asked a friend to go to the house.
When she didn't get an answer she called the police. They found the bodies of her son Harrison and her husband. They had died from asphyxiation.
Police found a letter from Louden next to his body and he'd posted several letters to family members - he had also sent text messages.
He referred to his mental health, saying: "In the last 18 months of Covid, those demons have escaped and consumed every part of me.
"Covid ruined everything including Harrison's hope of proper support.
"I'm worried Harrison's mental health will deteriorate so I'm taking him with me to the Angels."
In a statement made in recent weeks, which was read to the inquest, Louden’s widow, who is also a police officer, described him as a "kind and loving" husband and father who always supported others.
She said: "I do not understand the unforgivable decision Dave took.
"I will never be able to forgive Dave for taking the life of my little boy, Harrison, who was completely innocent.
"He had no right to take my son’s life regardless of how he was feeling himself.
"Harrison was a happy boy. I miss him with every breath I take. The pain of Harrison’s loss grows deeper as each day passes."
Mrs Louden ended her statement by saying: "Sleep tight, my little boy. Love you to the moon and back."
In separate earlier statements, Mrs Louden said her husband had a lot of anxieties, which the Covid pandemic had "escalated" enormously.
Louden found the period "really tough" and he went on to have counselling but had not discussed taking his own life.
Both Louden and Harrison died from asphyxiation either late on August 12 or early on August 13, the inquest was told.
Summarising the evidence in the case before reaching his conclusions, Mr Reid said Harrison had experienced significant language and communication difficulties, while it was "crystal clear" how much Mr and Mrs Louden loved and cared for him – with "everything they did driven by a desire to do the best for him".
The coroner said: "The court has heard many stories about how the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns this country has had to endure affected people’s physical and mental health.
"For Dave and Sam Louden that meant conferences (about Harrison’s condition) were often delayed and had to take place remotely rather than in person.
"That is to imply no criticism of those involved; it’s just a sad fact and one of the many consequences of the pandemic.
"But it seems to me those consequences also had an effect on Dave’s mental health."
The coroner added that Louden’s wife had described the impact on him from Covid as akin to "cabin fever" – which had left him withdrawn and very down.
Mr Reid concluded he unlawfully killed his son and then took his own life.
Accepting that Louden had been concerned for Harrison’s health and wellbeing and for the rest of his family, Mr Reid concluded: "These events, of course, led to an extensive police investigation.
"Having received all the evidence in this case, I am quite satisfied on the balance of probabilities that David Louden killed his son, Harrison.
"At the time of carrying out both these acts it was Dave’s clear intention to take Harrison’s and then his own life."
Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help:
Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com
Papyrus offers support for children and young people under the age of 35 over the phone on 0800 068 41 41 between 9am and midnight every day of the year. If you would rather text you can do so on 07786 209697 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hector's House is a suicide and crisis prevention and help resource, with links to specialist helplines.