Cop on husband taking his life: ‘I live with it every day’
Veteran NSW police officer Beth Docksey speaks for the first time about the loss of her husband, Glenn Stirton, a decorated officer who succumbed to PTSD after preventing a public mass shooting. He later took his own life in front of her at the police station they worked at.
Beth Docksey and Glenn Stirton shared a passion for policing and helping others. They met while both working as young officers on the beat of Sydney's CBD before falling in love and marrying three years later.
Their careers in the police force would provide them with both ecstatic highs - Sergeant Stirton being awarded prestigious Medal of Valour for preventing a mass shooting - that same incident in 2008 leading to gut-wrenching lows just four years later.
Docksey, now a retired superintendent, is speaking publicly for the first time about that dreadful day in 2012, when her husband - the love of her life and father of their two children - took his own life in front of her at the police station they worked at.
"It was nothing that I would have ever thought he would do," Docksey tells The Night Watch.
"You know, it just never occurred to me."
LISTEN: A veteran NSW Police Officer herself, Beth Docksey speaks for the first time to The Night Watch about the loss of her husband, Glenn Stirton, a decorated NSW Police Officer who succumbed to PTSD.
Four years earlier, Sergeant Stirton and a colleague were buying lunch Eastwood Mall in Sydney's north west when reports came through of man acting suspiciously.
They spotted him and gave chase before he ran down a lane and started shooting, with Stirton and his partner returning fire in a high-stakes gunfight with members of the public nearby.
After securing the scene and opening the gunman's bag, Stirton found it full of gun magazines, realising a potential mass shooting had been avoided.
Docksey said her late husband struggled after that day.
"It would just knock you out I think - the fact that you had been lucky enough not to be hit by any bullets," she said.
"I could see straight away he was impacted by it, by how quiet he was … I thought I could have been a widow that day, it was just by the grace of God I wasn't.
"He said to me later seeing the guy put the gun to his head and seeing the spray of blood and brains out the other side was very awful.
"That impacted on him a real lot … seeing that and then having to actually go in and possibly put his life at risk to check if the person was still alive or not - I think that was equally traumatic for him."
In order to be deemed fit to return to work, Stirton had to pass a pistol shoot - to see "if they're able to actually be out there on the street and pull their gun out and use it again and how they would react to it," Docksey explained.
He failed his first test. Something he didn't take well.
"He was quite perturbed about the fact that he hadn't been able to pass the first one … because he was a very, very, very dedicated to his career and wanted to do his full roll and be out there on the street, working with the troops."
It would take another four to six weeks before Stirton would try again - this time passing.
While to the outside world, Sergeant Stirton appeared to put the Eastwood incident behind him returning to full-time work and the couple later transferring to Albury police station in the Riverina together.
But his wife knew, privately, he was struggling.
He would self medicate with alcohol "however he never ever drank the night before that he had to go to work. and he never ever went intoxicated or having anything to drink to work".
The last thing Docksey said she expected was for her husband to take his own life at work in front of her.
"There's lots of times when husbands and wives, partners are on duty together. And on the day that Glenn passed away we were working. We were both working together on that day at the same station," she said.
"I was absolutely terrified because I thought that he was going to hurt me too but he didn't, and I think that with the manner in which he did it, it was - I don't know whether he was trying to demonstrate the impact that he had had from the Eastwood issue.
"(I) don't know whether it was just … so I would be able to understand exactly how he felt.
"It's dreadful - I live with it every single day of my life."
Critically injured, Stirton was rushed to Albury Base Hospital where he died shortly after.
"I remember saying to him 'oh goodness, you didn't have to do this'," she said.
"Because there was ways we could have moved through things and tried to help to get him in a better place. I just remember saying that, 'why did you do this, you didn't have to do it'."
Stirton's death left a lasting impact on Docksey and her two children, including policeman son Tim, who followed his father and grandfather's steps into the force.
In the years after the incident Docksey struggled with her own mental health and eventually left the police force in 2017.
While still suffering from flashbacks to that day, Docksey credits the support of her family - including new husband Graham - with the helping her get through.
"I live with it every single day of my life. I always had continually flashbacks, and I learned to manage that through.," Docksey said.
"I can't ever forget those things or they're never gonna go away, and that I live in parallel with what happened with my husband …"
Stirton's name was recently added to NSW Police's honour roll, which commemorates members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the execution of their duty.
Docksey said it was important for his name to be added.
"I think it's particularly important that we recognise that these officers worked for many years and did a fantastic job in the police often without getting probably the support or medical assistance that they needed," she said.
"I understand what it's like to be impacted well and truly by post-traumatic stress.
"We're normal people operating in an abnormal world."
Originally published as Cop opens up on husband taking his life: 'I live with it every day'