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Former head of the Royal Marines Matthew Holmes hanged himself at his Winchester home

The former head of the Royal Marines died as a result of hanging after having ‘concerns about his marriage and service career’, a hearing to open the inquest into his death was told today.

Major General Matthew Holmes, 54, was found in a bedroom at the home in Winchester, Hampshire, on October 2 – and his body was formally identified by his wife Lea, the inquest heard.

It also emerged that police attended another incident at the home on September 22. The officer, who served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, was Commandant General from June 2019 until April 2021.

Hampshire coroner Jason Pegg told the hearing in Winchester today: ‘It’s suspected that Matthew Holmes had a number of concerns at the time of his death including matters relating to his marriage and his service career.’ 

Major General Holmes commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008 and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007.

The father-of-two was also awarded a CBE in 2019 and has been described as ‘one of our most senior and highly decorated Royal Marines’. The inquest was adjourned for a full hearing on February 10 next year.

It comes after a war of words raged over Navy top brass mudslinging surrounding his death, with relatives said to have been angered by naval officials who raced to ‘settle scores and pass the buck’ over his mental health.  

Major General Matthew Holmes, who has died, won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020

Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

He had told colleagues he was struggling to cope with Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and said he felt ‘beaten down’ and ‘constrained’ in his role.

His family feels the head of the Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, played ‘a significant part in the turmoil’ the veteran faced. But friends of Sir Tony, named Chief of the Defence Staff on Thursday, denied he undermined him.

Former head of the Royal Marines Matthew Holmes hanged himself at his Winchester home

A source close to Sir Tony said he and his wife Louise had been friends with the Holmeses for more than 20 years and were devastated by his death and claims that conflict with Sir Tony contributed to the decline in his mental health.

They said critics would be left with ‘red faces’ when the truth emerged, and blamed ‘people with agendas’ for the mudslinging.

Major General Holmes had split from his wife Lea and lost his job as Commandant General Royal Marines.

He wrote to a friend: ‘I don’t trust Radakin. It’s been awful. Awful. You should see the tone of some of the emails I’ve had from Radakin. Basically imposing his authority and keeping me constrained.’

He and Sir Tony, 55, had been close friends, but fell out over changes to the Marines. It led to Major General Holmes leaving his post in April, halfway through his three-year role.

A friend of the Holmes family said Sir Tony and his deputy, Vice Admiral Nicholas Hine, had played a role in Major General Holmes’s decision to leave his job.

The friend said: ‘The poor family haven’t even had time to bury him and certain naval factions are already trying to settle scores and pass the buck. It is so undignified, unfair. Ultimately… the truth will out.

‘An inquest is the proper forum in which to consider all the pressures bearing down on Matt. Not the court of public opinion.’

Relations between the two were said to have come to a head following arguments over Major General Holmes’s post. 

The Daily Mail revealed last week that Sir Tony undermined Major General Holmes, according to messages from the officer.

Former First Sea Lord Sir Tony became the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job and will lead 159,000 soldiers, sailors and air personnel from next month. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was claimed to have overruled the military to ensure Sir Tony was appointed as Chief of the Defence Staff – even going against his own Defence Secretary’s advice.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson overruled the military to ensure Royal Navy admiral Sir Tony Radakin was appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces, it has been claimed. The two are pictured together on HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth in May

Prime Minister Boris Johnson overruled the military to ensure Royal Navy admiral Sir Tony Radakin was appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces, it has been claimed. The two are pictured together on HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth in May

Defence sources told the Daily Telegraph that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had recommended promoting General Sir Patrick Sanders, who is in charge of the country’s Special Forces and military cyber operations.

Boris Johnson’s choice for new Armed Forces head Admiral Sir Tony Radakin ‘was NOT the MoD’s preferred candidate’ it is claimed 

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, pictured at Prince Philip's funeral in Windsor in April

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, pictured at Prince Philip’s funeral in Windsor in April

Boris Johnson overruled the military to ensure a state-school educated Royal Navy admiral was appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces – even going against his own Defence Secretary’s advice, it has been claimed.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, 55, has become the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job and will lead 159,000 soldiers, sailors and air personnel from next month. His appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff came days after the death of Royal Marines general Major General Matt Holmes, who killed himself on Saturday.

Defence sources told the Daily Telegraph that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had recommended promoting General Sir Patrick Sanders, who is in charge of the country’s Special Forces and military cyber operations.

The Ministry of Defence is also understood to have favoured Sir Patrick for the role, but the Prime Minister went against this and opted for former First Sea Lord Sir Tony. 

This is understood to have been because of Sir Tony’s naval background, which is seen as being vital to the Government’s ambitions to build better global trading links.

Mr Johnson was also said to have ‘gone with his gut’ when he appointed the officer from Oldham – dubbed the ‘Red Wall military chief’. Sir Tony will take over from Army General Sir Nick Carter on November 30.

The Ministry of Defence is also understood to have favoured Sir Patrick for the role, but the Prime Minister went against this and opted for former First Sea Lord Sir Tony. This is understood to have been because of Sir Tony’s naval background, which is seen as being vital to the Government’s ambitions to build better global trading links.

Sir Tony and Major General Holmes were previously close friends, but fell out bitterly over changes to the Marines this year. The dispute led to Major General Holmes leaving his post as Commandant General in April – halfway through a three-year appointment.

Last week a Daily Mail investigation found that he felt deeply let down by the admiral, who was his boss as the Marines are part of the Navy. 

A directive from Sir Tony’s office included a gagging order banning the Marines officer from discussing key issues with colleagues, including the commander of the US Marine Corps (USMC), General David Berger.

Major General Holmes was also warned to ‘expect a more limited role’ in the Marines. The order and the tone of Sir Tony’s remarks left the father-of-two deeply upset.

He wrote to a friend: ‘I’ve had a very tough year. I feel beaten down. Not listened to, merely run over by someone with no military judgment: Too much is about appearance.

‘I don’t trust Radakin. It’s been awful. Awful. You should see the tone of some of the emails I’ve had from Radakin. Basically imposing his authority and keeping me constrained.

‘Kept away from ministers. All about his narrative. He doesn’t get the corps. But I know Gen Berger recognises my concerns (another one that Radakin ordered me not to engage with regarding my post).

‘Radakin sees himself as owning the USMC relationship. Berger doesn’t! At all. He wants to talk to me. How do you think I feel…’

Sir Tony’s efforts to bring the Commandant General into line came to a head late last year after a series of heated arguments between the two about the future of Major General Holmes’ post.

A document distributed to senior officers read: ‘I [Sir Tony] will engage with ministers and our international partners. The debate has to be toned down and ideally stopped. This is about my authority. International engagement by CGRM [Major General Holmes] is to stop. The CGRM focus is to ensure the corps delivers on its tasks, seeking opportunities for increased integration with the Royal Navy and preparing for a more limited role as CGRM from April 2021.’

The pair are also said to have disagreed about closer integration of the Marines within the Navy – a move resisted by Major General Holmes.

The complaint in Major General Holmes’ text to a friend that ‘too much is about appearance’ was said to refer to jibes about his height – he was 5ft 2in, according to media reports.

But he was well-liked by Marines and enjoyed their company. He served in all Britain’s recent conflicts and won a Distinguished Service Order for commanding troops under fire.

Sir Tony will take over as Chief of Defence Staff from Army General Sir Nick Carter on November 30.

The admiral was described last week as an ‘outstanding military leader’ and, as head of the Navy, has been credited with deploying more naval personnel on the frontline and more ships at sea.

He is being replaced as First Sea Lord by Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key, who led the UK’s airlift of British citizens and Afghans from Kabul after the Taliban takeover.

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to www.samaritans.org     

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