HC Deb 25 November 1996 vol 286 c87W
Mr. Robert McCartney

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps his Department is taking to reduce the level of suicides by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who use personal protection weapons to end their lives; and how many such suicides have been recorded by the RUC since 1976. [4457]

Sir John Wheeler

Over the past 20 years, the number of suicides in the community has increased and a changing pattern has emerged. Not surprisingly, this has been reflected to some degree in the RUC. The force welfare branch was established in 1972 and, following extensive research, the occupational health unit was established in 1986. Each suicide of an RUC officer has been studied in detail to try to establish factors that might assist in early recognition of difficulties and allow preventive strategies to be put in place. The force has employed several strategies to address the problem from as many angles as possible.

A stress working party to oversee and review the effectiveness of new initiatives was set up some years ago. Initiatives introduced in the force include: a video dealing with alcohol problems; a stress package administered by specially trained officers; supervisory training giving information on the identification and treatment of stress; promotion of physical fitness training; and a health screening service to help to identify individuals who exhibit high stress. In addition, recruiting procedures have been monitored, with particular attention given to past health problems and any effect that they may have on the individual as a serving police officer. Families of prospective recruits also have the opportunity to learn about problems that may arise and the signs to be aware of. Since 1976, there have been 53 suicides of full-time RUC officers, both regulars and reserves. Of these, a firearm was used in 45 cases.