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Friday, 19 December 2014

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Judge orders help for traumatised ex-soldier

Campaign: Stephen Bitcon, who has post traumatic stress disorder,  and his mother Evelyn who set up a support group

By Staff Reporter

A FORMER soldier who barricaded himself inside his house when more than a dozen police in riot gear turned up to arrest him is to undergo treatment for post traumatic stress disorder at a centre for disabled servicemen.

A judge at Carlisle crown court gave Stephen Bitcon, 30, four months to prove he can benefit from psychiatric treatment at the centre.

Bitcon, who had been suffering from PTSD for ten years after harrowing experiences on duty in Londonderry, panicked when he saw the police – some of them with dogs – swooping on his home in Little Broughton near Cockermouth in May.

The police, all dressed in riot gear and many carrying shields, wanted to arrest him after his girlfriend complained he had assaulted her a few days earlier.

But, the court heard, the ex squaddie fell back onto his infantry training and went into “combat mode”.

He covered his windows with fabric, jammed furniture against the doors, tied doorhandles with a clothes line and left obstacles on the floor.

Then, as police used a battering ram to gain entry he took refuge in the attic, where he armed himself with an aerosol he used as a flame thrower.

It was only when his sister intervened that he came down peacefully, lay on the floor and was handcuffed.

Bitcon, formerly of Carlisle, has three previous convictions for assault, and once spent more than a year in prison for an offence of which he was later cleared on appeal.

He admitted a charge of affray after the original allegation of causing actual bodily harm to his girlfriend was dropped when she chose not to pursue it.

Bitcon’s barrister Sue Machin described it as a “tragic case” brought on by the fact that he had never been given the psychiatric treatment he needed after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

“He regrets what happened at the time of his arrest, but he believes the manner of his arrest was very aggressive,” she said. “With such a large number of police officers and dogs it was very frightening.”

Ms Machin said it would be no use holding Bitcon in a secure psychiatric unit because such establishments were “not in any way geared up” to dealing with his sort of problems.

The only answer, she said, was to allow him to go as a voluntary patient to a unit run by Combat Stress, a charity dealing with troubled ex-servicemen, in Ayrshire.

Bitcon is among a group of more than 250 ex-servicemen who are suing the Ministry of Defence for negligence in the what is being hailed as the biggest legal action of its kind ever mounted. The action is being supported by the mental health charity Mind. He says he received no psychological support, despite seeing his best friend killed and surviving a semtex jam-jar bomb which exploded in his face.

The former squaddie spoke out about his experiences last year when his mother Evelyn launched PTSD-Link, a national project offering support to former servicemen affected by the condition.

Mrs Bitcon, 57, of Shaw Wood Road, Thursby, said she noticed a dramatic change in her son’s personality after he joined a two-year tour of duty in Northern Ireland with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment in 1992.

Judge Barbara Forrester deferred sentence on Bitcon until February 4 next year to give him time to prove that he could stay out of trouble and benefit from the treatment.

She told him: “It is quite clear that it is in your interests and in the interests of the community for you to receive help rather than punishment.”

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