Council official under pressure over budget cuts killed himself

A SENIOR council officer who took his own life was under “intense pressure” as his authority made budget cuts, an inquest has heard.

David White, head of legal services at Suffolk County Council, was found hanging in woodland just days after being appointed to the post on a permanent basis. He had worked for the council for 20 years.

His suicide sparked an independent investigation into the alleged “domineering” management style of the council’s then chief executive Andrea Hill.

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Mrs Hill has since been cleared of any blame but later left the council by mutual consent.

An inquest in Ipswich, yesterday heard Mr White had played a key role in overseeing a 30 per cent reduction to the council’s budgets and had raised concerns over the integrity of consultations about the cuts.

He had also seemed “uncomfortable” at telling Mrs Hill that some decisions would be unlawful, his manager Eric Whitfield told the hearing in a written statement.

Mr White’s wife Susan said in a statement that her husband had always worked in stressful roles and regularly needed to work on Saturday and Sunday mornings to cope with his heavy workload.

She said that in the days leading up to his death she “realised he was under stress about work” but did not worry as he had always worked hard.

Mrs White said: “On the day of his death he seemed his normal self. I assumed he had gone to work like normal.

“When I got home, I checked the answer phone and there was a message from him saying ‘Sorry, you will have to call the police’,” she said.

It later emerged that he had drawn up a will, witnessed by their neighbours, the day before he took his own life.

She described the 51-year-old father of two, who lived at Rushmere St Andrew, Suffolk, as a sociable, quiet and gentle man who enjoyed being with his family.

Peter Dean, Greater Suffolk coroner, recorded a verdict of suicide, saying it was clear Mr White understood the consequences of his actions.

An independent inquiry was launched after Mr White was found hanged in Butley Woods, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, on April 4.

Law firm Wragge and Co was appointed to investigate after senior officials received an anonymous whistle-blowing letter in the wake of Mr White’s death.

Allegations in the letter are believed to have included claims about former chief executive Andrea Hill’s “domineering management style”.

Mrs Hill was later cleared by the council’s discipline and appeals committee.

The committee said it was satisfied there was no evidence to support claims of bullying or harassment or that Mrs Hill was responsible for the death of Mr White.

But she left the council by mutual consent after separate complaints about her expenses claims. It was concluded that her extravagant spending on expenses were not dishonest, but did not represent “value for money” for the authority.

Since her departure, council leader Mark Bee has announced the council would be abandoning proposals put forward under the “new strategic direction” led by Mrs Hill and would instead be looking at alternative ways to make savings.

Mrs Hill had attracted criticism since her appointment on a £220,000 salary and her repeated refusal to take a pay cut as public sector pay for senior officials came under increasing scrutiny.