Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021

Retired police chief killed himself isolating to protect family from coronavirus

A popular former police chief took his own life while battling suspected coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, an inquest has heard.

Father-of-two James Webster, known as Jim to friends, was found dead in a chalet at the bottom of his garden in Cornwall after self-isolating there to protect his wife and grown-up children.

The family held Zoom meetings and socially distant meals throughout his time in quarantine and quickly noticed a deterioration in his mental health.

His wife Maureen said Jim ‘completely changed’ during his eight days in isolation and became ‘paranoid and neurotic’.

She told the inquest that at the start of his isolation period, her husband would throw back the curtains each morning saying it was a ‘beautiful day’, even when storm clouds crowded the sky.

He became more reluctant as the days passed and said he was feeling the cold, despite his wife bringing him jumpers.

Mrs Webster said he had begun to become paranoid about what the local community in Crackington Haven would think of him. He was also worried about the couple’s standing in the community if one of them was seen walking the dog on the beach alone.

She said it was ‘not like him to think like this’.

The night before Mr Webster’s death the family had held a socially distanced supper together and during it Jim had tried to reassure his wife and children that his ‘thinking was getting clearer and he would be out tomorrow’.

He told his son Max that he was going to watch Game of Thrones before going to sleep and made plans for another Zoom meeting in the morning, according to Plymouth Live.

The next day, on April 1, Mrs Webster went to bring him some coffee when she found a note pinned to the door saying ‘don’t come in, phone the police.’

‘I knew straight away. I was screaming ‘no, no, no’ because I couldn’t get into the chalet and the door was locked from the inside’, she told the inquest.

A six-page note found at Mr Webster’s bedside revealed how he struggled in the last days of his life.

Mrs Webster said: ‘I believe that Jimbo, in his right mind, would not take his own life. He had spoken so much over the years, given his experiences as a copper, about the devastation left behind when someone commits suicide.

‘It’s just unthinkable that this would be his intention – however, there is no denying the fact.

‘I think it was a perfect storm. The psychological effect of the Covid-19 environment – media, fear, lack of control – as he went into his self-isolation, and possibly the neurological effect of Covid-19 found in a small sample of Covid-19 deaths.’

Mr Webster, who had been the Assistant Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police until his retirement,  is thought to have caught the virus when he returned from London to his home at the end of March.

His wife said he had written about being a ‘bad guy’ which she considered ‘absolute nonsense’.

The inquest heard that after he retired in 2011, Mr Webster joined the board of the NHS, worked with the Foreign office and set up a gig-rowing club for Crackington Haven.

Friends and colleagues described him as ‘caring, unique and kind’ in tributes that poured in after the news of his death.

Devon and Cornwall Police’s Det Chief Supt Steve Parker praised Mr Webster, tweeting: ‘Jim was an absolute gentleman; quirky, inspirational and a true one of a kind.’

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