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Officer 'blighted' by unexpected tragedies died after falling from viaduct


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Cheshire PC struggled with stresses at work and a number of family bereavements, inquest told.

PC Rick Hooley: 'Greatly missed'

PC Rick Hooley: 'Greatly missed'

Date - 10th August 2018
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle
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A family liasion officer who spoke openly about the “devastating” task of comforting grief-stricken relatives of road crash fatalities over a 15-year period jumped to his death off a motorway bridge after battling personal tragedies.

PC Rick Hooley said it was impossible not to be affected by the life-changing effect for families having to come to terms with the “shock, disbelief and anger” of losing a father, wife, or young child.

And an inquest heard how the 50-year-old Cheshire Constabulary officer’s own life was “blighted by unexpected deaths in his family” and that grief “characterised his attitude to life”.

Warrington Coroner’s Court heard that on September 26 last year after spending a “sleepless” night with his father, he drove to the Thelwall Viaduct and ended his life.

Eye witnesses who were driving along the M6 at the time gave statements to the court on Wednesday.

Antonia McGann saw the officer in his final moments.

She said: “I saw a white car pull over and a man got out. It was a matter of seconds between him leaving the car and jumping from the bridge.”

The officer’s body was found a short time later by PC Brian Pritchard and paramedics confirmed his death at 9.51am.

Detective Inspector Hannah Friend was on duty and attended the scene. In a statement she said she was “saddened” to be able to identify the man as her colleague.

No note was found.

A toxicology report found no traces of alcohol or drugs in PC Hooley’s system and a post mortem examination confirmed he died of an extensive head injury with multiple bone fractures.

In a newspaper interview in 2014, the Warrington family liaison officer said his job of 16 years had been heart-breaking, adding: “Walking up those paths and driveways to knock on the door, and you know the news you have got is going to change lives.

“It’s just devastating – there is shock, disbelief, anger. They have lost a father, wife, or young child. People have grabbed me, or pushed me away. 

“Professionally, it’s having a care and compassion for people who are in the most difficult time of their life. You wish it could be different, but it’s not. I ‘d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me - we are only human.”

The court heard how the officer had visited his GP in Middlewich in the months leading up to his death and said he felt some stress that was affecting his work. He was given a sick note for work and he started counselling.

Reduced hours appeared to help PC Hooley with his stress but his counsellor, Fiona Damm, concluded in his session that he had moderate to severe depression and severe anxiety, the court heard.

PC Hooley – an officer for 25 years – told Ms Damm that others saw him as a “good egg” but that the death of his sister had affected him badly.

Having lost 19 family members since a child, Ms Damm stated he appeared a “bystander in his life” and there was “much more despair and trauma under the surface than he opened up about”.

It seemed from what Mr Hooley revealed that the deaths had really affected his life and he felt he was alone after the separation from his wife a year previously, said Ms Damm.

However, during his last visit to the GP he said he was feeling a lot better in himself and had resumed his normal work duties.

The night before his death, the officer visited his father, Edward Hooley.

The inquest heard that of the large number of bereavements in his life, he had been “mostly saddened” by the loss of his mother and sister. His uncle took his own life in 2012 and his nephew passed away a couple of years ago after a string of illnesses.

The officer phoned his father around 5pm on September 25, saying he had not had much sleep the night before. They watched TV before retiring to bed. “He didn’t get much sleep that night either,” said Mr Hooley senior.

He phoned his wife on the morning of his death and “after the call he was clearly in distress and visibly crying”, added the father. “He said that mentally, he couldn’t handle it anymore. I calmed him down and then he left. He made no comments to indicate that he was going to take his own life.”

After returning a suicide verdict, coroner Alan Moore paid tribute to doing a “sterling job as a family liaison officer as seen in this court room many times in that capacity”.

Cheshire deputy chief constable Darren Martland said the officer had been a dedicated member of the roads policing team and a committed family liaison officer for Warrington, adding: “He is greatly missed.”

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