Retired police chief took his own life, aged 58, after catching Covid

A retired Assistant Chief Constable took his own life after contracting coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, an inquest has heard.

Jim Webster, 58, was found dead in a chalet at the bottom of his garden after self-isolating there to protect his wife and children.

Mr Webster, who had been the Assistant Chief Constable until his retirement, had returned from London to his home in Cornwall with coronavirus symptoms at the end of March, reports PlymouthLive.

After quarantine himself in his chalet, Mr Webster was found dead in the chalet in Crackington Have, Bude, on the morning of April 1.

Mr Webster had also been a commander with the Metropolitan Police as well as Chief Superintendent of Plymouth.

The inquest heard in a statement from his widow Maureen that he had developed a cough and fever.

He decided to quarantine to protect his wife and their grown-up children Max and Robyn.

Jim and Maureen had planned this course of action if either of them caught the coronavirus.

Throughout the quarantine, the inquest heard, the family held Zoom meetings and socially distanced meals.

But the family began to notice a deterioration in Jim’s mental health.

Maureen said Jim “changed completely” during his isolation. She said he became “paranoid and neurotic” and that a six-page note found at his bedside revealed how he struggled in the last days of his life.

She said before those days Jim would often throw back the curtains each morning saying it was a “beautiful day” even when storm clouds crowded the sky.

In her statement, Maureen told the inquest that when they met in London in 1987 they would often go for coffee in the mornings – and so kept up that tradition with a drink, socially distanced, at the bottom of the garden during Jim’s isolation.

But she said he became more reluctant as the days passed and said he was feeling the cold, despite her bringing him jumpers.

She said he had begun to become paranoid about what the local community of Crackington Haven would think of him and the couple’s standing in the community if one of them was seen out walking down at the nearby beach with their dog.

Maureen said it was “not like him to think like this”.

The night before his death the family had held a socially distanced supper together and during it Jim had tried to reassure the family that his “thinking was getting clearer and he would be out tomorrow”, the eighth day of his isolation.

However, on the morning of April 1 she decided that she would go to the chalet with coffee on the deck.

She found a signed pinned to the inside of the door saying “don’t come in, phone the police”.

She said: “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.”

After fetching a spare key from the house, her son, Max, stopped Maureen entering and walked in, finding his father on the bed.

Attempts by a neighbour’s son, a lifeguard, to perform CPR had no effect and he was declared dead at the scene by an ambulance crew.

Maureen 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.”

She said he had written about being a “bad guy” which she considered an “absolute nonsense”.

After retiring in 2011 Jim joined the board of the NHS and worked with the Foreign Office around the world.

He set up a gig-rowing club for Crackington Haven.

In a statement Max explained how his father had spoken with him at around 9.30pm the night before his death, saying he was going to watch Game of Thrones before going to sleep, making plans for another Zoom meeting in the morning.

Max said his father “did not have any mental health issues” before contracting what was believed to be the coronavirus, but since he had begun to self-isolate “he had become increasingly unstable – he had become paranoid, anxious, reclusive and at the best of his ability, given his situation, controlling.

“We were saying that throughout the week he had become unstable and this was the first time we had ever seen him behave like this.

“Of course, we have no idea the extent of his mental degradation.”

Jim Webster was born in Noss Mayo, Devon, and had three brothers, He grew up in Plymouth.

He joined the police at 18 working for the Metropolitan Police, then as head of CID in Exeter and as Plymouth Police Commander before returning to the Metropolitan Police for a promotion.

He flew between London and Cornwall each week.

The coroner said James Connelly-Webster had taken his own life following eight days of self-isolation.

He noted police reports which had confirmed Jim had become “increasingly unstable and paranoid” before leaving a long and detailed letter for his wife, locking the chalet door and posting a message for her not to enter. As a result of what was found by his son the coroner said he would give the cause of death as asphyxiation and record a verdict of suicide.

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