Pressure timebomb ‘is driving police to suicide’

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POLICE officers are being driven to suicide because they are unable to cope with the stresses of their home and work lives, a former Yorkshire detective has warned.

Gary Heseltine, who served for more than two decades at British Transport Police in Leeds, Doncaster and Sheffield before retiring last month, has set up his own website offering help and support for officers suffering from stress.

The father-of-two says the “culture of police officers” and an unwillingness to show weakness makes it difficult for many to admit the problems caused by their work or home lives.

He said: “In some cases where an officer’s problems are left unresolved those pressures can lead an officer to reach a stage where they feel unable to cope at work and at home.

“This in turn causes added stress that may lead an officer into a spiral of despair that can end in that person attempting to or actually taking their own life.

“That is because of the culture and nature of police officers. The nature of policing means that police officers will be exposed to a wide variety of encounters that could lead to causing stress.

“No-one wants to admit they can’t cope, it is human nature. Officers struggle on, often in silence and those problems are left unresolved and the pressures at work continue.”

The 53-year-old, who lives in Holmfirth, has launched the website for serving officers to use for confidential support and advice without having to admit their problems to colleagues.

Mr Heseltine said officers can be referred to occupational health experts if they are reported to be showing signs of stress, but that most can’t bring themselves to admit they have a problem.

He said two of his friends in policing killed themselves during his career and “many other” colleagues also committed suicide, while others became suicidal.

Another colleague “suffered burnout” and was “so much in denial that he resigned from the force rather than admit and deal with his work-related problems”.

The launch comes days after the chairman of West Yorkshire’s Police Federation urged officers in the county to come forward if they were feeling under pressure due to the “unprecedented” cuts to police resources.

Jon Christopher said: “There has been a cut back in funding for welfare, there is a route for officers who are stressed to go down but it is not a particularly quick route.

“Counselling is not cheap, those that get it are deserving cases but there are lots more that can’t get it.”

Mr Heseltine’s decision to set up the website came when he was forced to look after his former police tutor last year after he became suicidal and spoke of his desire to kill himself.

He said: “I listened to him as he constantly tried to persuade me why he thought it was the best thing for him to kill himself. As I listened to his deluded logic I realised that I had found my cause.

“I would try to help officers to deal with stress at work and its many other sources. This event proved to be my motivation for creating this site.”

Mr Heseltine served for 19 years as a detective constable in Leeds, after spells working in Doncaster and Sheffield.

His role included working on the Hatfield and Great Heck rail disasters as well as investigating murders, manslaughter and rape at transport bases in Yorkshire.

He said he suffered from stress “on several occasions” and added: “It did not reach the point where I needed to go off on sickness but it was close on a few occasions.”

A spokesman for British Transport Police said it “takes the physical and emotional well-being of its staff and officers very seriously”. He said: “The force has a number of tried and tested policies in place to ensure everyone gets the help and support they need.”