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Military investigator ripped

Probe of soldier's 2008 suicide picked apart at tribunal

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OTTAWA -- Uncomfortable moments of silence filled the air Friday as the chairman of a military watchdog lectured the Canadian Forces investigator who probed the 2008 suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge.

Glenn Stannard, a former police chief, systematically ripped apart some of Sgt. Matthew Ritco's most important assumptions about Langridge's death -- perceptions that it turns out shaped almost the entire investigation.

"You're a police officer... Stuart Langridge was counting on you investigating," Stannard told Ritco at the end of a 20-minute barrage of pointed questions.

That observation prompted Langridge's mother, Sheila Fynes, to drop her glasses and burst into tears.

"In all of your training, did you ever hear the phrase, or hear the phrase from anybody -- from your mother to police training -- 'Treat others the way you want to be treated?' Stannard said, looking directly at Ritco.

"Do you think that happened here?"

Throughout almost two complete days of testimony, Ritco defended and apologized for some of the most egregious mistakes in the investigation, most notably his decision to withhold Langridge's suicide note from the family for 14 months.

Ritco explained he felt he was handling evidence and didn't want to rule out foul play too quickly. He said he treated the March 2008 death as a possible homicide until he was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt -- three months later -- that Langridge, a troubled veteran of military action in Bosnia and Afghanistan, had died by his own hand.

The repeated assertion left Stannard incredulous.

"The issue of suicide could potentially have been determined long before the date of June," the chairman said.

Stannard led the rookie investigator through evidence at the scene, including a door locked from the inside, no signs of forced entry or a struggle, a suicide note, the coroner's statement it was a "classic suicide," and the position and condition of the body.

When put on the spot, Ritco had trouble recounting the textbook definition of lividity -- post-mortem discolouration of the skin -- and what it tells investigators.

"Given that it was my first suicide ... " the military cop began to say.

Stannard shut him down. "I don't care if it was your first or your 50th."

The exchange was punctuated by long moments of awkward silence.

"I did not intentionally try to do any harm to anyone here, sir," Ritco said.

The Military Police Complaints Commission is examining whether military police conducted a biased investigation into Langridge's death, setting out from the beginning to smear the troubled soldier whose drug and alcohol problems had seen him in and out of hospital.

Inquiry lawyers separately delved into other aspects of how Ritco handled the case, questioning why he didn't interview Langridge's ex-girlfriend, who testified she'd been assured Langridge had been placed on suicide watch. Ritco said he and his case supervisor decided not to talk to her, even though she was listed as an important witness.

Ritco was also questioned about the fact his final report on the death was heavily rewritten and censored.

On Thursday, he said "direction that came down from higher" to create two case summary files -- one written by him, and a rewritten version to be delivered to the chain of command, including Langridge's commanding officer.

The final draft removed all but one reference to the victim having been on suicide watch before his death, an important point in the question of whether the military was negligent in handling Langridge's case. If he had died while under such strict supervision, it would have obliged military police to open a criminal negligence investigation.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 15, 2012 0

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