Lee O’Neill, 39, a former British Army officer, was found dead on the morning of March 26, just one month after he was sent home from Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
The dad of two had been taken to A&E by his sister, Jemma, 37, after attempting to take his own life but was sent home because no mental health beds were available.
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A coroner handed down a conclusion of suicide at his inquest at Blackpool Town Hall on Thursday, July 28. Following the hearing, Lee’s possessions, including his passport and mobile phone, were returned to Jemma – along with the items which ended his life.
She said: “Until now, I’ve not had the chance to grieve. I felt like once this inquest was over, I could start to grieve – but this has totally knocked me for six. I’m not sleeping. I’m not eating.
"Lee had two bags of stuff with him, but I was told I couldn’t get any of it until the inquest was over. When I left the inquest, I got home and looked in the evidence bag and found two (items).
“I've never suffered mental health problems before, and now I’m left phoning the doctors because it's really hurting me.
"Me and Lee were best friends. He left notes just for me, asking me to do things after he had gone. I planned the whole funeral myself, looked after my mum and dad and my brother, I’ve always been the strong one, so this has really tipped me over the edge. I haven’t been able to rest since it happened.”
Lee, who lived on Whitegate Drive, served in the army from 2000 until 2003, when he survived an attack which saw one of his friends shot in the face.
He suffered from depression and anxiety for 20 years, and had tried to take his own life several times, leading to Jemma taking him to hospital on February 26.
On March 9 he was discharged from the home treatment team after saying he did not want to take anti-depressants or receive counselling. He died 17 days later.
In a series of suicide note-style videos left on his phone, he told his family he feared he would hurt himself or others if he did not take his own life.
His funeral took place at Carleton Crematorium on April 9, and was attended by Jemma, his other sister Stacey, brother Craig, and his parents.
Jemma, of Manor Road, said: “His death has affected us all badly. Nobody is coping well. Me and my mum saw him every day. My mum has to look out the window and see his empty flat just across the street.
“I didn’t want to tell anybody, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought (the police) shouldn’t get away with it. My brother already suffers from depression and so he’s very upset about it. I just can’t put into words how bad I feel.”
A complaint was issued to Lancashire police on Jemma’s behalf and she received an email from the detective inspector involved in the case who admitted that a mistake in the force’s property system had caused the items to be included with Lee’s other belongings.
He said: “I accept full responsibility for this error and I can only apologise for what must have been an unimaginably distressing moment. When I arranged to return the property I log onto the property system and check the items listed to ensure that it is appropriate to return them all. On this occasion, the (items) was not listed as a separate item and I was not aware that it was with the rest of the items.
"Whilst this will not offer you much in the way of reducing the heartache this has caused I wanted to assure you that the processes in place are usually fairly robust to avoid this very situation. I can assure you that it was not my intention to return this item at all.
"To prevent this happening in the future I will ensure that those authorising the release of items to families will personally check the bags before handing them over. I will also speak to the officer who seized and exhibited the items to ensure that all items are itemised in future.”
The detective added that he would meet with the family to offer his apologies in person, ‘although (he) accepted that this may be refused’.
Lee’s friend Carla Foley, 38, said: “I've never heard anything so stupid in all my life. It has really, really upset Jemma. It could have pushed her over the edge, after what they have had to deal with. It's sick. She’s distraught.
“Lee’s death has devastated us all. Everyone is still heartbroken months later, and this has just made things all the worse. Everyone is so angry and upset.
“If it was my brother, I think it would have pushed me over.”
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: "We are aware a number of items were returned to Mr O'Neill's family.
"We apologise to his family for any distress caused.
"Going forward any property returned to relatives following a death will be personally checked by the senior investigating officer before release.
"Our thoughts continue to remain with Mr O'Neill's family at this very sad and difficult time."
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