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MSDF found liable for suicide

Sailor’s kin win boost in redress

Kyodo

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday ordered the government and a former Maritime Self-Defense Force petty officer to pay more than ¥73 million in damages to the family of a seaman who committed suicide in 2004 — a figure markedly higher than the ¥4.4 million sought earlier in a lower court ruling.

The Yokohama District Court previously ruled in 2011 that the suicide could not have been foreseen, but the high court said it was predictable and could have been avoided.

“I proved that my son’s life was worthwhile,” the 60-year-old mother of the seaman said with tears in her eyes after the court made its ruling.

She said she had hoped her husband, who had fought with her in court until his death five years ago, could have witnessed the outcome. He had felt responsible, she said, for encouraging their son to join the Self-Defense Forces.

The high court ruling was based on investigation documents related to the suicide that the MSDF withheld during the lower court trial but later submitted to the high court.

The 21-year-old crew member of an MSDF destroyer killed himself in October 2004. An older MSDF petty officer second class was later found to have punched him, shot him with an air gun and threatened him prior to his suicide.

In response to a ¥130 million damages suit filed by his family, the Yokohama District Court ruled that the assaults and threats triggered the suicide and that superiors had failed to stop the assaults despite being aware of them.

At the high court trial, a third lieutenant commander of the MSDF, who served as the government’s representative, admitted that the MSDF had previously covered up investigation documents, including memos of interviews with the seaman’s colleagues.

The documents, which were then submitted to the high court, detailed the assaults and threats, becoming key evidence for the court’s conclusion that the suicide was predictable, as explained by presiding Judge Kenta Suzuki.

The coverup led the plaintiffs to raise the damages claim to ¥150 million, leading the high court to order the government to pay an additional ¥200,000.