Friday, September 30, 2005

CBF died “in complete despair” after being removed of his command

by Brian Reyes

Commodare White inquest day one • He was under investigation but had not been arrested or charged

Commodore David White, the former Commander British Forces in Gibraltar, took drink and sedatives before he drowned in the swimming pool of his Mount Barbary home last January 8th, less than a day after being told that he was being relieved of his command.

An inquest into his death heard yesterday that Commodore White, 50, had been recalled to the UK pending an investigation by the Ministry of Defence police into allegations that he had used his credit card to buy pornographic images from a US website.

There was no reference at the inquest to the type of content on that site but UK press reports at the time claimed he was being investigated by Operation Ore, Britain’s largest inquiry into child pornography.

At the time of his death, Commodore White had not been arrested or charged.

“The sudden news on the telephone that he was going to be removed of his command would have been too much to cope with for him,” Rupert White, his brother, told the inquest.

“I think he was in a state of catatonic shock from the time of that telephone call to the time of his death.

I think he was in complete despair.”

Officers from the Ministry of Defence police had interviewed Commodore White on December 15 last year and removed computer equipment, including a laptop, a hard drive from a desktop computer in the Tower, a camera memory chip and several discs.

“He was obviously shocked,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Geoff Nicholls, the MOD police officer in charge of the investigation and one of the men who interviewed him.

“He was very polite, compliant and very gentlemanly in the way that he both received us and dealt with us.

He was open and frank with his answers and readily gave us what we requested of him.”

By early January, the computer equipment had been analysed and it became apparent to investigating officers that a second interview with Commodore White would be required.

“At that stage there were no substantive criminal offences,” Mr Nicholls told the inquest.

“In fact, nothing further would be known without the clarification of that [second] interview.”

At about the same time, however, senior military staff decided to reappoint Commodore White away from his command in Gibraltar after learning that news of the ongoing probe had leaked beyond the team of investigating officers. They feared an adverse media reaction and concluded that his position was becoming untenable.

On January 7, Vice Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, the 2nd Sea Lord, phoned Commodore White to inform him of the decision and advise him to leave Gibraltar that weekend.

"I do believe that David’s mental state collapsed at 5.15pm on that Friday evening,” Mr White told the inquest.

“I think that he was in a catatonic state, incapable of making any rational decisions and I think that he was still in that state when he went out for a walk on Saturday afternoon [January 8th].”

Commodore White was last seen alive by Colonel Thomas Camp, Chief of Staff in Gibraltar at the time, about 90 minutes before his body was found fully clothed and face down at the bottom of the swimming pool at around 4.15pm on January 8th.

The Commodore had looked “weary and distracted” Colonel Camp told the inquest.

Squadron Leader Nigel Forshaw, the Commodore’s military assistant who had been ordered to assist with his arrangements to return to the UK that weekend, found the body. Military and police officers who arrived at the scene shortly after found nothing to suggest foul play.

Peter Jerreat, a Home Office pathologist, said the Commodore’s body displayed numerous bruises and grazes but none that could account for his death, suggesting that he may have fallen over a number of times before he drowned.

A post mortem on Commodore White showed 61 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood – which is under the UK drink-drive limit – but also showed levels of the sedative Zoplicon that were “higher than normal for therapeutic use.”

“This could have caused impairment of coordination and impaired judgement,” Dr Jerreat said. “Death was clearly due to drowning,” he concluded.

It was evident throughout the inquest yesterday that the people close to Commodore White held him in high regard. Several witnesses described him as a ‘perfect gentleman’, an officer who had devoted his life to the Royal Navy.

“He was very calm, well spoken, very correct and well educated,” said Karen Ressa, his house manager.

The current Commander British Forces, Commodore Allan Adair, had been a friend for 25 years and Commodore White was godfather to one of his sons.

“This was a tragic sequence of events with a tragic conclusion,” said Vice Admiral Sir James in a statement read out to the court.

“His death was a great loss to us all.”

Mr White told the inquest that his brother had just four years left before retirement and had been considering settling down in Gibraltar.

“He was seriously thinking about retiring here and buying a flat,” he told the inquest.

“There were all kinds of things he liked about Gibraltar.”

Commodore White was born in London in 1954 and brought up in Kent. He was educated at Eton and travelled the world for two years before joining the Royal Navy as a Seaman Officer in 1973. He had a long and distinguished career, including a stint as an officer on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.

As a submariner he commanded HMS Torbay during the 1990 Gulf War and was later Captain 2nd command of Trafalgar Class submarines in 2001 prior to his appointment as Gibraltar’s Commander British Forces on May 7th, 2004.

Commodore White was single and lived alone at his Mount Barbary residence, in the exclusive area of Mount Road.

The inquest continues today and coroner Charles Pitto is expected to record his verdict this morning.

Related Articles and Links:

Operation Ore

The Children's Society

Internet Watch Foundation

28 September 2005 - Police appeal for information on 'suspicious' death

21 June 2005 - Jury finds neglect in Nunez Inquest

11 January 2005 - Military Chief expresses shock and grief

14 January 2005 - Post Mortem in Commander British Forces Case - Commodore White drowned


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