A dedicated veteran Tasmanian police officer who took his own life feared his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would prevent him from returning to work.
An inquest is looking into the October 2020 death of Sergeant Robert Anthony Cooke, 49, as well as the suicides of three other police officers in separate incidents.
Sergeant Cooke, whose career began in 1990, was officially diagnosed with PTSD in June 2019 after being paid compensation earlier in the year.
“(An) expert medical report … refers to cumulative exposure to traumatic situations, as well as overexertion and sleep deprivation as causal factors,” said assistant coroner attorney Cameron Lee. , during an opening brief on Thursday.
The medical report says Sgt Cooke, who has been described as loved by his colleagues, could participate in a return to work program.
The inquest was told he had done it in a police radio role, but there were training difficulties, making it short-lived.
The inquest, which will span several weeks, will examine the impact of return-to-work programs on Sgt Cooke’s mental health.
It will also examine the staff movements surrounding Sgt Cooke’s desire to return to work at Oatlands Police Station and his concerns that he would not be able to do so.
The inquest heard a new role had been created at Oatlands to safeguard Sgt Cooke’s position when he was fit to return.
In May 2020, Sgt Cooke told a colleague he feared his PTSD diagnosis would prevent him from returning to work and that he was struggling to walk away, the inquest heard.
The day before he died, Sgt Cooke told his sister “he would kill to be on the job”.
Mr Lee described Sgt Cooke, a father of two, as someone who was generous with his time and strongly supportive of his colleagues.
He also held a leadership position with the Police Association of Tasmania.
“It seems he just enjoyed being a frontline police officer,” Mr Lee said.
The inquest heard that Sgt Cooke worked 60 hours a week with little downtime, plus the requirement to be on call when off duty.
The inquest is also looking into the deaths of Constable Paul Hunt, Senior Sergeant Paul Reynolds and Constable Simon Darke.
It investigates Tasmania Police policy and procedures in relation to the resignation, suspension and dismissal of officers, as well as the organisation’s wellness and fatigue management programmes.
Mr Lee said a colleague would provide evidence that Constable Darke had ‘missed a fight’ amid a conflict with his partner and had lingering scars from previous failed relationships.
He was also working in an isolation police role, Mr Lee said.
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