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The Liverpool Echo
20:56, 16 JUN 2018 Updated 21:16, 16 JUN 2018
Liverpool soldier killed himself weeks after suicide of friend with PTSD [and, presumably, medications for it – Ed]
Rifleman John Paul Finnigan, from Huyton, stood shoulder to shoulder with Kevin Williams and the pair forged an “undeniable bond”
Kevin Williamson and John Paul Finnigan served in Operation Telic 9 in Iraq (Image: Sunday Mirror)
A brave Liverpool soldier killed himself weeks after his friend who he served alongside committed suicide following a battle with PTSD.
Rifleman John Paul Finnigan, from Huyton, stood shoulder to shoulder with Kevin Williams and on the front line in the same regiment and forged an “undeniable bond”.
In 2007 they were pictured beaming with pride as they posed with Iraqi security forces during an eight-month tour of the war-ravaged country with 2nd Battalion The Rifles.
But both struggled to adapt to civilian life after they left the Army as they were tormented by PTSD, night terrors, visions of death and feelings of being unable to cope, reports the Mirror Online.
Finally Kevin, who was 29, lost his terrible internal struggle and took his own life.
And loved ones of dad-of-three John Paul, who was 34, believe that tipped him over the edge and prompted his own suicide only 12 weeks later.
John Paul killed himself after the horrors of war left him feeling ‘pretty much useless’ (Image: Sunday Mirror)
Today the families of both soldiers bravely speak out in support of the Save Our Soldiers campaign by our sister title the Sunday People.
John Paul’s sister Nicola, 38, said: “There are soldiers out there suffering the same way as my brother. They need help, they should talk.”
And Kevin’s sister Jennifer Williams, 34, said: “More needs to be done at every stage to help our soldiers. It’s not enough to have a support mechanism in place after they have the problem.”
More than 300 veterans and serving personnel attended John Paul’s funeral this week after the Royal British Legion issued a plea to show solidarity with those suffering PTSD.
Proudly wearing berets and poppies, they followed his coffin draped in the Union flag and led by a procession of standard bearers.
A white floral wreath spelled out “Daddy”, a lone piper led the hearse and a plane flew overhead carrying a banner that read “Swift and Bold”, the Rifles’ regimental motto.
But the military tribute could not disguise the harrowing toll the invasion of Iraq, which claimed the lives of 179 British personnel, took on those who served there.
Horrors of war
John Paul’s brother Steven says: ‘Not enough was done to help him’ (Image: John Gladwin/Sunday Mirror)
Kevin and John Paul served together in Operation Telic 9, which saw some of the toughest fighting in Iraq and involved 46,000 personnel at its peak.
Once the pair saw three mates gunned down by a sniper as they fought insurgents in Basra.
In one horrendous incident John Paul had to hold a friend’s face in place as they returned to base after an IED blast.
John Paul was medically discharged from the Army in 2010.
He had suffered hearing loss caused by a mortar bomb landing only yards from his head. But the worst wounds were deep inside in his mind.
Sister Nicola added: “John Paul thought he was a monster, a burden to the family. He kept apologising and he tried many times to take his life. I said to him, ‘Little brother, you’re still a baby to me’.
“But he couldn’t get past it. He had this recurring dream where he would see his own wounds.
“He thought he would die as a soldier and when he came into civilian life he couldn’t cope. He suffered night terrors. He was scared of the dark and he could smell dead flesh.
“Kevin’s death really affected him. They were friends and they were happy together. It was the tipping point. When Kev died it really got in his head and pushed him over the edge.”
John Paul’s brother Steven, 28, said: “He joined the Army because he wanted structure in his life. But when he was discharged he used to taxi injured soldiers to hospitals all around the country. So he saw people he served with suffering bad injuries. It just tormented him.
“He went to therapy and they threw tablets at him but he always said the medication just numbed him. Not enough was done to help him.”
John Paul’s family say an inquest has been opened and closed and ruled that he took his own life.
Just 12 months before his death, he sent a heartbreaking text message which documented his struggles.
He wrote: “I struggle adapting to civilian life. I just can’t cope with my body being consumed with a higher state of anxiety.
“The best way of describing it was that I felt as though I was walking at a normal speed where everyone else around me was moving at a much slower pace.
“My brain felt as though it was working quicker than everyone else’s, processing information quicker.
“I suffer from feelings of rage, anger and at my worst was close to ending my life on several occasions.
“I’m starting to accept that PTSD will be a part of me for the rest of my life.”
The families of both soldiers support the Sunday People’s Save Our Soldiers campaign (Image: John Gladwin/Sunday Mirror)
Rifleman Kevin Williams met the Queen after becoming the youngest soldier to be sent to Iraq when he was deployed on his 18th birthday.
But an inquest heard he killed himself near his home in Basildon, Essex last March 18 after the horrors of war left him feeling “pretty much useless”. He had signed up at just 16 after being inspired by watching soldiers on TV but was discharged at 22.
In a documentary he said: “Returning to civilian life was a big shock. The skills I learned were all combat-based. I was pretty much useless and felt sad all the time.”
But now his sister has revealed how he was wracked with feelings of horror and guilt.
Jennifer, a software manager from Yorkshire, said: “He told me one story where he saved the lives of five of his comrades but to do that he had to kill someone with a bomb strapped to them. He couldn’t understand how he could have done that and he broke down and said, ‘Jen, it was either them or me, what could I do?’.
“There were signs when he was still in the Army but later he realised that being in civilian life was even harder with PTSD. There should be therapy for troops as soon as they land back in the UK.”
Among the mourners at John Paul’s funeral was ex-2 Rifles comrade Steve Nicholls, who signed up at the same time as him and even caught the same train to Catterick for their first day of training.
Steve Nicholls, who served with John Paul Finnigan, also attended the funeral (Image: Julian Hamilton/Sunday Mirror)
Steve, 33, who has PTSD himself, said: “He was a strong lad and a really nice guy. His banter got us through Iraq.
“But I couldn’t save him and I couldn’t save Kev Williams either.”
The Sunday People’s Save Our Soldiers campaign wants more support for Forces heroes – who are committing suicide at the rate of one a fortnight – an inquiry by MPs and increased NHS funding.
The MoD said: “Any suicide is a tragedy. Help is available through the 24-hour mental health helpline and we have increased spending to £22 million a year.”