Young Lancashire soldier 'traumatised' after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, inquest told

09 11 Ben Riches
Ben Riches served in Iraq and Afganistan Credit: PA images

A young British army veteran who was found dead at his home in Lancashire was traumatised after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, an inquest has heard.

Ben Riches, 30 was found at his home in Lindel Road, Fleetwood, on April 11, 2019, after he had been out with friends.

His death came less than three weeks after he was pulled from the sea at Fleetwood beach following an attempt on his life.

Ben, who had joined the army aged 16 and served in Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2010, was discharged in 2014.

An inquest into his death at Preston Coroner's Court was told the former Kingsman of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment had served as a sniper and with bomb disposal teams during his time in the British Army.

His grieving widow, Lauren Riches, who had met him in 2010 and married in 2014, described him when they met as "funny, outgoing, lovely to be around’ and said he "enjoyed being with his family and friends."

However, she said he began to show he was struggling with his mental health after about six months, and that he would drink to block things out, lash out in his sleep and have nightmares.

She said: "He said 'I can’t talk about it'.

"He said he had seen things he didn’t want to tell me about, because he didn’t want me to go through the same thing.

"He just told me it was horrific and it was horrible and he didn’t want to tell me.

"As time went on Ben would drink more and more, I was walking on eggshells all the time."

The inquest into Ben's death is being heard at Preston Coroner's Court Credit: PA images

Lauren was forced to change her work shift patterns as she was afraid to leave him alone, but added that he would have obeyed an order to get professional help, if there had been one.

Ben's devastated mother, Carolyn Riches, told the inquest Ben was traumatised after he had to shoot someone in Iraq, and also gave someone his last sandbag during the incident.

She said: "He felt guilty. He started to think that this was a father - it did weigh heavily on his mind."

Adding that he had also lost friends in Afghanistan, she said: "When he came back... he was having nightmares and sleepwalking.

"I would find him in the bathroom scrubbing his hands, stating, 'I want to get rid of the dirty blood."

Ben lost friends in Afghanistan Credit: PA images

The court also heard how it was suggested the veteran was badly affected by PTSD as well as a house fire at the family home on 30 September, 2015, when a tumble dryer caught fire.

Ben was badly burned on his arms, back and head. He was placed into a coma, undergoing skin grafts and losing his hair.

Dr Anthony Kearns, consultant in emergency medicine at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals said that on 4 August, 2018, Ben had been seen at A&E after jumping into a line of traffic and whilst under the influence of alcohol but luckily, had no injuries.

Blackpool Victoria Hospital Credit: PA

Dr Kearns said Ben was subsequently seen by mental health professionals, and found to be discharged the following day.

Dr Mukul Sharma, consultant psychiatrist at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, said that when Ben came in on 4 August, 2018, he identified possible PTSD from Ben’s time in the army as well as well as the fire but there were concerns from his wife that Ben might not be willing to engage with support.

He said that Ben was: "Initially too intoxicated to be assessed but later was able to have conversations, had sobered up and was not a danger to himself.

"He had been an army veteran. We felt that we should give him an opportunity to look into this."

Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust said 'no grounds to detain' Ben in 2018 Credit: LSCFT

Ben was encouraged to self refer to Inspire, a privately run substance misuse and alcohol abuse service, although this could not be enforced, while the PTSD would have to be taken up by the mental health team, but there were no grounds to detain him short term under the mental health act at the time.

The consultant psychiatrist added: “We did not feel we could detain him any longer unless he was willing to stay.”

Yet days later, he had been drinking and tried to hurt himself.

Sharon Watts, a liaison and diversion practitioner with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, said that she saw him after he had been taken into custody but that he wouldn't answer questions, but agreed to meet with a support worker who was an ex services veteran.

She said: "He said PTSD was made up, he said alcohol wasn’t a problem."

Ben was referred to a mental health triage service called ‘single point access’ and given information on how to seek help.

Hugh Scholar, a mental health practitioner and military services veteran with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, then spoke with Ben at home on 15 August, describing him as ‘fidgety,’ advised him to engage with services, adding: “I was hoping that he would engage - we did have a conversation.”

Yet subsequent attempts to contact Ben by the military veterans’ service were unsuccessful and Ben was discharged from that by September.

Ben then returned to A&E with chest pain on 24 October 2018, said Dr Kearns, and had a provisional diagnosis of a clot on his lung.

On 8 March 2019, he was brought to A&E by North West Ambulance Service after being pulled out of the sea after a member of the public spotted him.

Ben was referred to the mental health team at around a quarter to 12 that evening before being discharged by them at around 6am the next day, said the A&E consultant.

Dr Jyothi Nallapuneni, the consultant psychiatrist who was on call and one of two doctors to assess Ben’s mental health, said that Ben didn’t want to answer questions, adding: “He said he wanted to go home and have a good rest and walk the dog.

"He was not presenting with any acute mental health symptoms and did not pose a risk to himself and others."

Senior Coroner James Adley asked: “Even though he has walked into the sea… is that something you would factor in?

"What would he have to have said or done for you to have detained him?”

Dr Jyothi Nallapuneni replied that they would look at factors including whether he had psychotic symptoms or delusions, adding: “At the end of our assessment, we were comfortable in making the decisions that at that point in time he was not detainable."

The consultant said Ben was advised to go back to Inspire, the self referral private service, and the home treatment team, who would manage mental health issues in non detainable patients, telling the court that he was contacted by the crisis team late that day.

Anna Morris, of Garden Court Chambers, representing the family, asked: "Are you saying that you referred him and sent it off to the home treatment team on that day?"

The consultant replied that she could not remember, at which point Senior Coroner James Adley said: “You will have to find the entry that he was contacted by the crisis team or you will have to accept that he wasn’t... you will have to find the entry, otherwise, its simply that there wasn’t any contact, and there wasn’t any referral.”

The consultant confirmed the assessment did not need to take place in a hospital, adding that the risk was low and it was always better to engage the person in the least restrictive way for the therapeutic relationship.

Yet weeks later, on 23 March 2019, Ben went into the sea at Blackpool and posted about plans to do so on Facebook around the same time.

The army veteran was referred by the Emergency Department team at Blackpool Victoria Hospital to the mental health team afterwards, but the following day was then discharged. Ben was then found dead at his home the following month.

A post mortem report revealed 304 mg of alcohol in his blood.

The inquest continues.