Family and friends tell inquest of shock and sorrow over death of Selkirk soldier

Family and friends have told of their shock and incomprehension over the death of a teenage Borders soldier found hanged last year.

Souter soldier Alistair McLeish.
Souter soldier Alistair McLeish.

Alistair McLeish, of Selkirk, had seemed happy and was enjoying being in the army so why he would have killed himself was inexplicable, an inquest held yesterday, April 24, heard.

The 18-year-old’s body was found by army colleagues in a bathroom at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire on July 3 last year.

The infantryman had been drinking heavily that weekend, but friends with him at the time said he showed no signs of depression or being unhappy.

In a statement read out at Harrogate Coroner’s Court, also in North Yorkshire, Alistair’s mother, Karen McLeish, said there seemed to be no logical reason why her son would have ended his own life.

“We are totally distraught as a family,” Mrs McLeish said.

“We cannot come to a logical reason as to why he took his life. He appeared to love the army.

“We were in regular contact, and I never picked up on any significant problems.

“He appeared to have friends, and there was never any suggestion he was bullied or anything like that.”

Highlander McLeish was a member of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

He joined the military straight after leaving Selkirk High School and had been stationed at Catterick since December 2017.

Major Freddie Macnair, company commander for 4 Scots, was one of the first responders called out at around 9am on July 3, and he told the inquest he found Alistair’s body hanging in an en-suite bathroom connected to his private room.

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation was attempted, but Alistair was pronounced dead by paramedics at 9.22am.

Major Macnair said he had spoken to Alistair on two separate occasions regarding his drinking after he turned up to work smelling of alcohol but added that he’d had no major concerns about it.

Giving evidence, he said: “He was a big character, so there was quite a lot of interaction between myself and him.

“I saw him on a day-to-day basis. He was getting better and better. He was really getting into the swing of things.

“He had just joined the company boxing team and had been picked out as one to watch.

“He was someone who would play hard but work hard too.”

Major Macnair added: “He had some minor disciplinary issues when he turned up after having a few drinks with friends the night before.

“There were two instances where he turned up smelling of booze.

“I took him to the side and spoke to him about it.

“It was not anything I was too worried about. It was nothing unusual.

“I had no concerns about him at all.

“He had a good group of mates and was always someone who engaged very well – that’s what I saw of Alistair as a soldier.”

In a statement read to the court by coroner Rob Turnbull, fellow Highlander Dylan Rollo described Alistair as his best friend.

The pair had been drinking the Devon-made fortified wine Buckfast together on the afternoon of July 1, two days before Alistair was found dead, the hearing was told.

Mr Rollo said: “We drunk about two bottles each. Alistair never mentioned anything was troubling him.

“He appeared a happy, normal guy – one of the lads.”

A toxicology report found alcohol levels of 222mg per 100ml of blood in Alistair’s system, the drink-driving limit south of the border being 80mg, and Mr Turnbull said that could have caused confusion or led to an agitated emotional state.

Alistair had been given July 2 off work as he had only recently returned from a 10-day trip to Germany, but what he did that day is unknown, with colleagues mistakenly assuming he had gone back home to Selkirk.

Mr Turnbull, recording a conclusion of death by suicide, said: “I’m wondering what’s prompted his actions.

“He was enjoying the army. There is no reason from what I have heard to suggest otherwise.

“We’re left to surmise what might have happened.”

Addressing the teenager’s parents, he said: “It is not my job to ascertain the motive, but I am guessing you would like very much to know.

“Whether he had been ruminating on things is not known, but there is no apparent motive for this tragic incident.”

Giving evidence at the court, detective sergeant Scott Nugent said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Alistair’s death.

No suicide note was found, and a police search of his mobile phone found no messages indicating he had any intention to end his life, he added.

A post-mortem examination concluded that the cause of the teenager’s death was hanging.