Family wants answers over soldier's suicide

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Some family members of Northland soldier Corporal Douglas Hughes say they want an open inquest to satisfy their questions over his death in Afghanistan.

Coroner Gordon Matenga last week found that Corporal Hughes' death was a suicide, but he did not open an inquest and said he was satisfied with the investigation conducted by the Defence Force court of inquiry, details of which he suppressed.

Corporal Hughes' uncle, Mike Poa, said the family held strong concerns about the Defence Force's handling of the incident and wanted an open inquest. He would not discuss the issue in detail before a whanau meeting because the family wanted to present a united front in confronting their concerns.

"We're not embarrassed by the fact he (Mr Hughes) is gay. I just feel personally they didn't do enough to support him. My feeling is perhaps he lacked access to the assistance he deserved. I don't think we've been told the truth," said Mr Poa.

Mr Hughes' mother, Venus Poa, was due back from a trip to Australia today, Mr Poa said.

The family planned to meet and discuss what steps to take now that there would be no coronial inquiry.

"I just want to get to the bottom of things. The army have abdicated their responsibility."

He said the family had hoped the coronial inquiry would satisfy their questions and he was angry Mr Matenga had decided not to hold an inquest. "It's his job to do an investigation."

Former Defence Minister Phil Goff has backed the family.

"I'm not throwing the blame on any particular individual on this," said Mr Goff, now Labour's defence spokesman.

"I'm just saying that when you have a tragedy of this nature, it's really important to learn all of the lessons of it so you can avoid it happening again. Only if you bring it out in the open can you seriously start to address it."

Mr Goff wants the decision overturned.

Mr Hughes was serving at Romero base in Bamiyan province at the time of his death on April 3 last year. The family reportedly believe Mr Hughes was bullied because he was gay and received no support from commanders.

But Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said he did not believe anything could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

Dr Coleman said he did not have concerns about the force's attitude towards gay personnel but could not account for the attitudes of every person in the organisation.

The Defence Force has had a policy of accepting gay personnel in line with the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1986 and the Human Rights Act 1993. APN

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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