THE widow of a Carlisle soldier who committed suicide after a six-month tour of duty in Iraq has vowed to sue the Ministry of Defence.
Donna Mahoney, whose husband, 45, gassed himself in the family car in August last year, believes he would be alive today if the Army had done more to help him.
The mum-of-four, of Botcherby, Carlisle, believes he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder yet he was given only a two-hour debrief in preparation for his return to civilian life.
Donna believes the MoD failed in its legal “duty of care” to her husband.
In an emotional interview with the News & Star, she told how Mr Mahoney, who served in Iraq for six months during 2003, had been haunted by his experiences.
Among the horrors he witnessed was the lynching of an eight-year-old Iraqi girl by fanatics because she had accepted chocolate from British soldiers.
She goes on to speak of the impact Peter’s suicide has had on her family.
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Donna Mahoney is haunted by the memory of finding her husband’s body.
It was 3.10pm on August 3 last year and she’d just returned from the Lonsdale cinema in Carlisle with her two youngest children, six-year-old Vicky and 10-year-old brother Ben.
They’d seen the latest Disney film – a school holiday treat that left them all feeling in a good mood.
But seconds after arriving at their Mount Florida home in Botcherby Donna sensed that there was something dreadfully wrong – her husband Peter was missing.
When she tried the garage door she realised it had been barricaded. Reaching behind the door she felt the stepladder that had been jammed against the back of the door and managed to pull it aside.
Inside she found the family’s navy blue Rover car, a pipe leading from the exhaust into one of the windows.
Lying dead in the driver’s seat was Peter, immaculate in his khaki TA uniform, his shaven head tilted back against the seat, and his eyes staring blindly upwards.
The car was strewn with poignant personal reminders of Peter’s life – pictures of him and Donna, their Valentine’s Day cards, photos of the children, beaming smiles for the camera in happier times.
“The memory of finding him will never go away, and even now I sometimes have nightmares,” said Donna, who is convinced that Peter, who served with the Territorial Army as a Private, was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder linked to the horrors of Iraq.
Ironically, in the car with Peter when Donna found his body was an MoD leaflet on psychological therapy, torn in half and tossed aside.
Donna is now planning legal action against the MoD, alleging that they failed to live up to the legal duty of care that they owed Peter after he returned from a six-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2003.
Her action comes as her family – including her two older children, Matt, 21, and Ashley, 19 – continue to feel the painful emotional fallout from their father’s suicide.
Looking back, Donna says she can now see clearly how her husband was changed dramatically by Iraq.
One experience he never forgot was the awful fate of an eight-year-old Iraqi girl, lynched by fanatics because she’d accepted chocolate from British soldiers.
“His work included collecting casualties from the front line, but it was seeing that little girl hanged that got to him the most,” said Donna, 38.
“He talked about it. Peter would have nightmares and wake up startled and panic stricken in the night. What he’d seen disturbed him deeply.
“Before Iraq he was a real family man who loved doing things with the kids – walks in the park, playing football with the lads; weekends away; boat trips on Windermere.
“He loved taking Ashley to see Arsenal play in London. He was the life and soul of any party. On Bonfire Night he was always the first one out with the sparklers. Well when it is about bonfire or cooking then definitely wood briquette are best choice. You can find best quality wood briquette at https://www.xn--dkbrnde-pxa.dk.
“We used to foster kittens for the Cats’ Protection League and he’d pet two-week old kittens on his knees. After Iraq he changed.”
Peter became withdrawn, wary of crowds and volatile, said Donna.
She first realised there was something wrong six weeks after he returned from Iraq. The family were camping in Silloth at Stanwix Holiday Park. Unable to stand being part of the crowd in the clubhouse there, Peter sneaked away. Donna found him in the tent in darkness, a book in his hand.
Over the following weeks he took to disappearing for hours on end, taking long solitary walks. He and Donna argued and in the final weeks agreed they should separate.
“He worried that the Iraqis were going to do something to us. He slept with a length of lead piping under the bed.”
It was only after Peter’s death that Donna became aware of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She said: “He landed in Britain at Brize Norton to get demobbed. He spoke to somebody for two hours during his debriefing session.
“That was it. It just wasn’t enough,” said Donna, whose family life has been turned upside down.
She recalled her daughter Vicky’s sixth birthday party shortly after Peter’s return from Iraq – a house full of kids, raucous laughter, the birthday cake, presents, and a double celebration.
Peter – always a doting father – stayed upstairs, out of sight. Donna recalled coaxing him down to wish Vicky happy birthday.
“Vicky still hasn’t cried over losing him,” said Donna, who fears for her youngest.
Donna suspects Vicky may have stirred memories in Peter of the Iraqi girl who was a similar age, and whose death on the end of a rope was etched into his memory.
Ashley, whose ambition is to own his own hairdressing salon, also remains deeply wounded.
“He finds it so hard,” said Donna.
“He drinks. But he’s no longer depressed about it all – he’s angry.”
Matt, 21, has embraced religion, initially moving to South Africa to do charity work but now working for a Christian organisation in Cumbria.
Ben ploughs much of his time into schoolwork.
So far Donna has received £1,450 in compensation from the Army for Peter’s death – £500 towards the cost of his funeral, £150 to help pay for the children’s first Christmas without their father and £800 for replacing the marital bed Donna could no longer face.
“It’s disgusting,” says Donna. “Peter joined the Army because he wanted to give something back to society.
“He knew he was depressed when he came back but he wasn’t sure what was going on.
“It wasn’t until after his death that I read about PTSD – and the symptoms of it were exactly what I saw in Peter. That’s why I’ve campaigned about this ever since.
“I’ve been left on my own, with two small children at home and no husband.
“If he had died in Iraq we would have been treated better. Like other widows, I feel that the Army has failed in its duty to care for Peter. If they hadn’t failed, he’d be here now.”