A former Head of the British Army has paid tribute to a ‘model soldier’ after she and her soldier husband killed themselves in a suicide pact a day after throwing a final party for their unsuspecting friends.
Peter McGuinness, 54, and wife Deborah, a 49-year-old former personal assistant to three heads of the military, were found dead in a Land Rover at a remote beauty spot in Dorset after planning the suicide for weeks.
The devoted couple, known by friends as Mac and Debs, died of carbon monoxide poisoning and a suicide note found in the vehicle said ‘neither of us can be without the other’, an inquest heard.
Mr McGuinness had suffered from depression possibly caused by PTSD after several tours of Iraq, and had talked about taking his own life before. But his wife, who had been given the all clear from cancer just five months before her death, had no history of mental illness.
The couple each served in the Armed Forces in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for more than 20 years. Mrs McGuinnesss was later personal assistant to three consecutive heads of the Army: Generals Sir David Richards, Sir Richard Dannatt and Sir Peter Wall.
Sir Richard paid tribute to Mrs McGuinness last night, calling her a ‘model soldier’ and the couple’s deaths ‘a double tragedy’. He told the Sun newspaper: ‘It is only some comfort that she and her husband were together.’
Also found dead in the hired Land Rover was the pet cat they had taken with them from their home in Kingston upon Thames. Cards containing money and poignant messages to family members were also found at the scene in the car park at Durlston Country Park, near Swanage.
Peter McGuinness, 54, and wife Deborah (pictured), a former PA to three heads of the military, were found dead in a Land Rover at a remote beauty spot after planning it for weeks
Sir Richard Dannatt paid tribute to Mrs McGuinness, calling her a ‘model soldier’ and the couple’s deaths ‘a double tragedy’
Cards containing money and poignant messages to family members were also found at the scene in the car park at Durlston Country Park, near Swanage, Dorset
The inquest heard how Mr McGuinness left the army in 2007 and had recent bouts of anxiety and depression which may have been triggered by PTSD. Mrs McGuinness had discouraged him when he had questioned whether life was worth living in the past.
Their family told the Bournemouth inquest the couple had been together for 23 years and they were ‘confused’ by their deaths as ‘they seemed so happy’.
The hearing was told that in mid-July last year – about two weeks before their deaths – the couple started searching online for dealing with wills. They threw a Mexican-themed fancy dress party at their home on August 1 for friends and drove to Durlston Country Park the next day.
Giving evidence, Mrs McGuinness’s mother Rosemary Carlisle said: ‘As a family we are so confused as to why they chose to end their lives.
‘They threw a Mexican-themed party for Deb’s birthday on August 1 and there was no indication about what would happen next as they were talking about going on holiday to Spain and buying a flat.’
Mr McGuinness had suffered from depression, possibly caused by PTSD after several tours of Iraq, and had talked about taking his own life before. But Mrs McGuinnesss, who had been given the all clear from cancer just five months before her death, had no history of mental health illness
The couple, known by friends as Mac and Debs (above), each served in the Armed Forces in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for more than 20 years
Giving evidence about the party, army friend Thomas Rutherford said: ‘They were both in fancy dress and seemed to be enjoying themselves a great deal. There was no indication that anything was amiss.’
The next day, they drove a Land Rover Evoque hire car down to Dorset and it was captured on CCTV entering the car park at about 6pm. The vehicle was spotted at about 7.30am the following morning by a staff member at the park.
She banged on the windows to try and wake the pair who were reclined in the driver and passenger seats but after getting no response called 999.
The emergency services forced entry to the vehicle and found the pair lifeless inside. They were pronounced dead at the scene. Their dead cat was in the footwell.
A post-mortem examination carried out by pathologist Dr Robert Blahut ruled out foul play and said their cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mrs McGuinnesss was personal assistant to three consecutive heads of the Army, including Sir Peter Wall (left) and Sir David Richards (right)
A search of the couple’s computer history showed they had looked at websites for doing online wills in mid-July. In the car, they left a notepad with passwords inside it for their electronic devices and advice on what to do with their ashes.
Mrs McGuinness served in the army from 1989 to 2012, doing tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Iraq.She was personal assistant to three consecutive heads of the Army, Generals Sir David, Sir Richard and Sir Peter.
At the time of their deaths, she was working as an office manager at the same security firm as her husband, who was an insurance handler.
Mrs McGuinness’s niece Esther Carlisle, who lived with the couple before moving to Taiwan, said Mr McGuinness got angry when his son asked him if he had PTSD in 2018.
In the car (pictured), they left a notepad with passwords inside it for their electronic devices and advice on what to do with their ashes
She said: ‘They were together for 23 years and loved each other dearly. Peter got low sometimes and said he didn’t think he’d live till he was 60. I remember the only time he got angry and it was when his son suggested he might have PTSD and suggested he get help.
‘It was a regular occurrence for his army friends to commit suicide and he would not be shocked by it.’
Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin, who recorded a conclusion of suicide for both parties, said: ‘It is very clear to me that Debs and Peter were devoted to each other and were popular, hardworking and social people.
‘Their behaviour to their close family and friends in the days leading up to their death gave no indication of what was going to happen.
‘Peter had been diagnosed with depression but on the other hand Debs had no history of mental health conditions and had actually discouraged Peter when talking about not wanting to be alive.I’m satisfied on the balance of probabilities that they did the act that caused their deaths and in doing so intended these consequences.’
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