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A Tasmanian inquest examines four suicides by policemen

An inquest into the death of a Tasmanian policeman heard he had been ‘abused’ by evacuees during a horror bushfire season and was ‘obsessed’ with suicide cases.

Father-of-two, Constable Simon Darke, 45, took his own life on 6 February 2019 after working 23 hours of overtime in three days to evacuate Tasmanian bushfire victims.

His former partner, Kimberly Freeman, spoke at an inquest into the deaths of Mr Darke and three other officers over 12 days from November 21 to December 9.

Ms Freeman said Mr Darke enjoyed working in the police force, but she had noticed a change in his mental health before his death.

Father Of Two Tasmanian Agent Simon Darke (Above) Committed Suicide After Helping To Evacuate Bushfire Victims In Early 2019

Father of two Tasmanian agent Simon Darke (above) committed suicide after helping to evacuate bushfire victims in early 2019

She told the court that Mr. Darke would become fixated on his cases involving suicide, and that she feared he was in possession of a gun.

Another former partner, Shanna Sweeney, said she contacted police in 2011 over Mr Darke’s suicide threats, but said she believes the matter was swept under the carpet.

Mr. Darke died just days after working heavy shifts to evacuate residents around the Huon Valley.

A wildfire has been raging in the area since December 28, 2018, but a series of lightning strikes around the Huon Valley on January 24 meant thousands had to be evacuated.

Mr. Darke was one of several officers who went door-to-door telling locals to move to a nearby evacuation center, but his father, Graham, said he had been horribly beaten.

“My son said he took a lot of abuse when he asked people to leave their homes during the fires. ABC reports.

Mr Darke'S Father Said He Was Subjected To 'Beatings' As He Helped Evacuate Residents During The 2019 Huon Valley Bushfires (Pictured, View Of The Blaze From The Nearby Town Of Huonville)

Mr Darke'S Father Said He Was Subjected To 'Beatings' As He Helped Evacuate Residents During The 2019 Huon Valley Bushfires (Pictured, View Of The Blaze From The Nearby Town Of Huonville)

Mr Darke’s father said he was subjected to ‘beatings’ as he helped evacuate residents during the 2019 Huon Valley bushfires (pictured, view of the blaze from the nearby town of Huonville)

The evacuation center helped about 700 people daily for 15 days and closed on February 8.

The inquest heard that Mr Darke reported to Bellerive Police Station for night duty on 6 February 2019, but GPS records from his work car show he left early in the night to head back to his home in Midway Point.

Employees of the police radio room attempted to contact Darke at 1:14 a.m. and sent two officers to his home when they failed to make contact.

Counsel assisting coroner Cameron Lee said officers found Mr Darke ‘dead in the premises’.

Ms Sweeney said when she reported Mr Darke’s suicide threat in 2011 it was clear that if he sought help he would be indirectly punished.

“There was a perception that he would be judged if he got help,” she said.

She added that it was common knowledge among his unit’s officers that he was dealing with suicidal thoughts.

The Inquest Heard That Two Of Mr Darke'S Former Partners (Above) Feared He Might Self-Injure Before His Death On February 6, 2019

The Inquest Heard That Two Of Mr Darke'S Former Partners (Above) Feared He Might Self-Injure Before His Death On February 6, 2019

The inquest heard that two of Mr Darke’s former partners (above) feared he might self-injure before his death on February 6, 2019

Coroner Cameron Lee also spoke to the inquest about the death of beloved rural police officer Sergeant Robert Cooke, 49, who took his own life on October 13, 2020.

He said, like Mr. Darke, that Mr. Cooke went through a series of stressful events in the police force, but that he did not handle these issues well for fear that it would damage his job.

Mr Cooke worked at the police station in Oatlands, about 50 miles north of Hobart, and lived in Campania, about halfway between Hobart.

Mr Lee said he was passionate about his work as a police officer and well known in the community.

More than 200 people attended his funeral.

“He worked tirelessly as a police officer and senior officer in the Police Association,” he said.

“Seemed like he just loved being an operational police officer on the front lines.”

Father Of Two Mr. Darke (Above) Was Found In His Home By Two Colleagues After Leaving The Night Shift Early

Father Of Two Mr. Darke (Above) Was Found In His Home By Two Colleagues After Leaving The Night Shift Early

Father of two Mr. Darke (above) was found in his home by two colleagues after leaving the night shift early

Mr Cooke prescribed an opinion column on being a rural police officer The Mercury several years before his death.

“In a five or six day shift, if you knock, you’re not really knocking because you can be called back 20 minutes after you get home,” Cooke wrote.

‘All the cops tell you that you can’t really relax at home because you wait for the phone to ring. When you go to bed, your sleep pattern is disrupted for the same reason.’

The inquest was told that Cooke first started showing symptoms of anxiety in 2015 and that an “acrimonious divorce” from his ex-wife in 2016 only worsened the situation.

In April 2019, he was formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The diagnosis attributed exposure to traumatic events, overwork, and sleep deprivation as contributing factors.

However, Mr Cooke feared he would lose his prized position in the police force if he took the time to properly manage his health.

He took his own life at his home in Campania while at work.

The judicial investigation continues.

Beloved Rural Police Officer Sergeant Robert Cooke (Above) Committed Suicide On October 13, 2020, After Expressing Concern That His Job Would Be Affected By His Post-Traumatic Stress Diagnosis

Beloved Rural Police Officer Sergeant Robert Cooke (Above) Committed Suicide On October 13, 2020, After Expressing Concern That His Job Would Be Affected By His Post-Traumatic Stress Diagnosis

Beloved rural police officer Sergeant Robert Cooke (above) committed suicide on October 13, 2020, after expressing concern that his job would be affected by his post-traumatic stress diagnosis

HEARING HEARING OF THE LAST WEEK

Police veteran Fiona Smith gave testimony to the inquest last week regarding the death of her family friend, Officer Paul Hunt.

Mr Hunt took his own life on July 8, 2016 on his father’s property in Mount Direction.

He had resigned earlier that day and police still had custody of his phone when he died.

Mr Hunt had been dismissed from the Professional Standards Command after a series of allegations, including that he had used his police badge to gain access to pharmaceutical drugs.

Ms Smith was a Welfare Coordinator for the Tasmania Police Force between 2015 and 2019.

She said Mr Hunt suffered from depression and a series of physical injuries and had told her ‘he felt he had been targeted’ by the investigations.

“When you’re subject to an investigation, you want it over,” she said.

Mrs. Smith had had coffee with Mr. Hunt on the morning of his death and tried to get in touch with him after his dismissal interview.

However, police seized Mr Hunt’s phone as part of their investigation into allegations against him and did not return it after the termination meeting.

“I lost faith in an organization I once loved. (The four suicides have taken a) physical and emotional toll. The department did not support me when I kept screaming for more help and more staff,” she said.

The fourth and final suicide case under investigation by the inquest is that of Senior Sergeant Paul Reynolds, 54, who died on September 13, 2018.

At the time of his death, Mr Reynolds was under investigation for a range of child offenses including sending and receiving child exploitation material, inappropriately messaging minors and grooming members of the local football team.

The claims were substantiated after his suicide.

Mr Reynold’s is also accused of stealing approximately $165,400 from his mother while she was in a nursing home.

Officers from the Professional Standards Command raided Mr Reynolds’ home in Westbury the night before his death.

His widow Sharon Reynolds told the inquest that she was unaware of her husband’s pedophile behavior.

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Jacky

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