Suffolk legal chief committed suicide in wake of cost-cutting pressure

An inquest into the death of Suffolk County Council’s former head of legal services David White has found he took his own life while under intense pressure from cutbacks at the local authority.

Woodbridge, Suffolk
Woodbridge, Suffolk

White, a 51-year-old father of two who had worked at the council for more than 20 years, was found dead on 4 April in Butley Woods, near Woodbridge (19 April 2011).

According to a report by the BBC, the hearing was told White was under intense pressure while overseeing a 30 per cent cut to council budgets and had raised concerns about the propriety of some of the cost-saving decisions.

White’s manager, chief executive Andrea Hill, had attracted criticism over her £218,600 salary, and his death prompted an independent investigation led by law firm Wragge & Co into Hill’s alleged domineering management style.

She has since been cleared of the bullying claim, as well as allegations of having claimed false expenses, but left the council in July receiving a year’s salary in compensation (5 July 2011).

In a suicide note that was read at the inquest, White wrote to Hill: “I just wanted you to know that my death is not in any way or sense directed at you personally or meant as a comment on your leadership of the council or the new strategic direction.

“It is simply that I have been unable to cope with the demands being placed upon me.”

Suffolk’s former assistant director of scrutiny and monitoring Eric Whitfield, who left the council shortly before White’s death, told the inquest that White had raised concerns about the integrity of some of the cost-cutting.

Whitfield said White had been troubled about the way consultations on the cuts were being conducted, particular in relation to libraries services.

He was also concerned that Hill’s plans to make appointments under delegated powers would be unlawful, and he felt ‘uncomfortable’ about raising it with her.

Great Suffolk coroner Peter Dean recorded a verdict of suicide and said White had understood the consequences of his actions.