Former BBC journalist killed herself at airport after moment of 'extreme stress and panic', coroner records verdict of suicide

Jacqueline Sutton. Picture: Hassan al-Ghezzi

A former BBC journalist hanged herself to death in an airport toilet after missing her flight and deciding “on the spur of the moment” to take her own life, an inquest has heard.

Jacqueline Sutton, 50, was found in a cubicle at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, last October. She became upset after missing a connecting flight to Iraq, the Independent reports.

Although friends of Sutton questioned reports at the time of her death suggesting she had killed herself, Coroner Andrew Walker recorded a verdict of suicide.

He told North London Coroners’ Court that CCTV footage showed Sutton sitting alone and drinking two cans of beer before going to the boarding desk where she was told her flight had taken off.

“She told the staff she had no money to pay for another and began crying,” he said. “They told her that nothing could be done.”

Sutton had worked at the BBC World Service between 1998 and 2000, reporting from Africa, the Middle East and London.

At the time of her death, she was the acting Iraq director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), a London-based charity network that supports journalists in war-torn countries.

She had replaced Ammar Al Shahbander in the role after he was killed in a car bomb attack on 2 May, according to IWPR.

Sutton had been in London for Ammar’s memorial service and was on her way back to her office in Erbil, Iraq, when she took her own life.

Speaking at the hearing, Ms Sutton’s sister Jenny said her death came after a moment of “extreme stress and panic” and the decision was made “on the spur of the moment”.

She said: “I don’t believe that it was premeditated. I don’t believe she had a prior intention to take her life.

“In that moment she was in a moment of extreme stress, panic, and made that decision on the spur of the moment. But it was her decision.”

Speaking to the Independent after the hearing, Sutton said her sister had been working with a Kurdish journalist before her death, gathering stories about how different religious communities “had lived together for generations in peaceful coexistence before the interference of the West and before the war opened up such horrible sectarian divisions”.

She said: “I think a contributory factor to the blackness that overcame my sister was seeing the suffering of the people of the Middle East.

“We’d marched together against the war and she had been living in war zones for a long time and had absorbed a lot of the suffering of those people and I think she would be pleased to see the Chilcot report coming out and to see the findings, to see the ghastly folly of American and British invasion in that region and all the trauma and suffering in that region that has resulted.”

She added: “It’s been very difficult, but I think anybody with empathy living in war zones feels the pain.

“Jacqueline would be the first to say that her first thoughts were for the Kurdish, Iraqi people in the region for many years. She was extraordinarily brave, fearless, and loving.”

Ms Sutton was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire and was one of four children, with two sisters and a brother. She had been working on a PhD on the position of female journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan

IWPR executive director Anthony Borden said: “We at IWPR remain deeply saddened by Jacky Sutton’s death, and our thoughts are with her family at this time.

“Jacky was an extremely kind, competent and dearly valued member of staff.

“Throughout her career, she courageously dedicated herself to helping improve the lives of disadvantaged and dispossessed in some of the world’s most challenging regions, with a special focus on strengthening media and freedom of expression.

“Few people have the courage to commit to this kind of arduous, essential work but she never lost sight of the challenges facing ordinary people and was passionate about making a difference to their lives.”

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