Superiors of the lead military investigator in the Stuart Langridge suicide case slashed and censored their subordinate’s final summary of the case, a shocked federal inquiry heard Thursday.
Military Police Complaints Commission lawyer Mark Freiman dropped the bombshell towards the end of a day of dramatic testimony by Sgt. Matthew Ritco, the investigator chosen to handle the Langridge case the day the Afghanistan war veteran hanged himself in March 2008.
The re-written report — absent potentially damaging references to the military and less than half the length of Ritco’s original — was the National Investigation Service’s (NIS) ‘official’ version sent to the base commander at CFB Edmonton where Langridge hanged himself.
Despite being re-written and censored by his superiors, Ritco’s name remained on the report as its author and the title of the report also remained the same.
The stunning revelation appears to confirm claims by Langridge’s parents Shaun and Sheila Fynes that elements in the NIS were biased in favour of the military and doctored their report accordingly.
“It’s shades of Somalia,’ said the Fynes’ lawyer Michel Drapeau told the Citizen after the hearing. “It’s unheard of. We are shaking our heads.
“This NIS Case Summary was ghost written by the NIS chain of command,” he added. “This is a cause for concern, and evidences our allegation that there is a lack of independence within the NIS.”
Key elements censored by Ritco’s superiors include all but one reference to whether Langridge was on a suicide watch before he died, and whether he was on “defaulters” — or being disciplined.
The reference to a suicide watch remaining in the re-written report is supportive of brass at CFB Edmonton: “Cpl Langridge was not on defaulters nor was he on a suicide watch,” reads the reference.
Ritco’s original report includes several references to a suicide watch, most significantly the fact that a list of names was drawn up at the request of the regimental sergeant major to watch Langridge round the clock if it became necessary.
Ritco says the instruction was “to obtain a list of personal (sic) available to assist in a suicide watch on Cpl. Langridge.”
Also absent from the rewritten report is reference to an interview Ritco conducted with a master corporal at the base who stated categorically she was ordered to draw up the list.
According to previous evidence, Langridge accidentally saw an email the master corporal wrote about the list and she was later verbally disciplined for putting the words ‘suicide watch’ in an email subject line. There has been ongoing debate and contradiction throughout the inquiry as to whether Langridge was on an official suicide watch. There is still no clear answer but the implications are potentially serious.
If the troubled suicidal soldier was on an official 24-7 watch when he killed himself, it could have led to criminal negligence charges against his base superiors. But more significant to the Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry is the fact that NIS brass chose to censor potentially damaging references.
Ritco’s original case summary was dated May 30, 2008. The edited, censored version was dated June 2, 2008.
Ritco, a rookie investigator at the time, told commission lawyer Freiman that he had expressed “concern” to his superiors about his name being on the doctored report, but they told him “ ‘that’s the way we want it done.’ It was a direction that came down from higher.”
A clearly surprised commission chairman Glenn Stannard, a former Windsor, Ont., police chief, said he was “confused” as to why there had to be two reports.
“You’re the lead investigator,” he said to Ritco. “Why is there a different case summary? Why does it have to be altered?”
Ritco said his superiors told him they would “fix it up” and it would read better.
“But it’s different,” responded Stannard. “The facts are different … and it’s less than half of yours.”
“Yes,” replied Ritco. “I did have issues with my name being up there. If something should happen, and we come to something like this (a public inquiry) everybody will assume I wrote it.”
The NIS, which is essentially the military’s arms-length detective branch, has insisted throughout that it acts independently of the mainstream military and neither plays favourites nor is intimidated by rank.
Earlier, Freiman had subjected Ritco to intense questioning over the suicide watch, saying that interviews the military police officer did with base personnel made it clear that a suicide watch was planned, if not implemented.
“Is it a fairytale to suggest that there was a plan?” he asked. “I haven’t seen that contradicted anywhere.”
Ritco, who had been reluctant to take a position on the issue, eventually agreed but added: “I was getting mixed information.”
In their defence, Langridge’s superiors at CFB Edmonton have testified that they did all they could to help the soldier. They deny claims that he was suffering from PTSD or some other war-related mental illness and say his problem was drug and alcohol abuse.
His parents vehemently contest this and say he began a noticeable downward spiral after his Afghanistan service.
The inquiry began last spring and was the result of a litany of complaints from the Fynes’ about how NIS investigated their son’s suicide.
Ritco, whose earlier testimony focused on his examination of the suicide scene and the mysterious disappearance of Langridge’s suicide note, continues his evidence Friday.
It is unclear how the latest revelation will impact the inquiry, which is scheduled to end mid-October.