Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2005, Captain Ken Masters, Special Investigation Branch, Royal Military Police, died in Basra. Just five days away from the end of his tour in Iraq, he took his own life.
The son of a Royal Navy veteran, Captain Masters had joined the Royal Military Police in 1981, being commissioned in 2001 and serving for most of his time with the Special Investigation Branch. He rose to the rank of captain, having what was described as a “flawless military career”, and served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, where he led the Royal Military Police investigative unit in Basra.
At one point during the time that led up to his tragic decision, he told his wife in a phone call: “Imagine your worst day and multiply it by a thousand.” He wrote many letters home to his wife, which increasingly showed the stress he suffered and the pressure he was under. She said that he nevertheless loved his career, having joined the army cadets at the age of twelve, and was devoted to his work: “He talked of little else. He lived and breathed it.”
During his career Captain Masters had investigated the army's response in the case of Michael Stone, the gunman who killed three mourners in a cemetery in Belfast in 1988, and the shooting dead of three IRA members in Gibraltar that same year. It was noted that his work on drug abuse in the military was critical to the Special Investigation Branch’s move from “a passive, intelligence-gathering unit to a high-profile investigative unit". Basra turned out to be a different experience for him than anything that had gone before. British forces faced allegations of abuse and impropriety, and minor transgressions as well as war crimes
Then in July of 2005, inn the House of Lords, former Chief of the Defence Staff Field Marshal Lord Inge said of the Special Investigation Branch: "[Soldiers believe it] to be unduly aggressive and biased, and that it appears to be based on the supposition that those whom the Branch is investigating are guilty and that it is its duty to prove it”. Captain Masters wrote that life had “suddenly become very hectic around here". In late July he went home on ten days’ leave, having lost a substantial amount of weight and looking tired and gray.
After his return his letters to his wife revealed a deterioration in his mood, he suffered from self-doubt and indecision, hampered by a lack of sleep, and said that he felt unable to cope with “pressure from above”. A colleague told him, in the month before his death: “Sir, I'm getting really worried about you. I think you're crossing the line between being very depressed and suicidal”. E-mail communication with a close friend seemed to help, and in the early hours of the morning of the 14thof October, Captain Masters wrote to his wife that she and their daughters kept him going. The following morning a soldier visiting his office to use the phone later told of the captain just sitting staring into space and being unresponsive. Captain Masters was not seen nor heard from for the rest of the day, and at 7 p.m. officers broke down his door to find that he had taken his own life. He left a note for his wife, and one for the army, blaming himself.
His wife later said: "Ken did not suffer in silence. I knew what he was feeling, many of his colleagues knew and medical staff knew - and yet there was no system in place for those concerns to be raised without it damaging his career. That has to change." Although tortured by self-doubt, he was considered to be the finest of commanding officers. Lieutenant Colonel Zac Stenning said: “To me, proof of his excellent performances was reflected in the fact that his unit handed over so few unfinished jobs to their replacements. Any successes must be attributable in some way or another to Ken."
Ken, from Aberdeen, was married with two daughters.