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Richard Morris: Former ambassador suffering from ‘extreme stress’ while working on government’s COVID taskforce, inquest told

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A British diplomat who was found dead in a forest vanished from his home after suffering extreme stress while working for the government’s COVID taskforce, an inquest has heard.

Richard Morris, who was the ambassador to Nepal, helped coordinate briefings to ministers during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020.

On Monday, his widow Alison Morris fought back tears as she told an inquest that he had been “totally unprotected” from the demands of the coronavirus taskforce.

Search for Richard Morris
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Mr Morris’ body was found three months after he went missing near his home in Hampshire

Ms Morris said her husband feared there was not enough time to process information in the fast-moving period and if any error got past him the government “would be torn apart in the press”.

She said he was “desperate” to keep on top of his work, working every day with “no real time off”.

Richard Morris ‘genuinely interested in people’

Mr Morris was last seen running near his home in Hampshire on 6 May 2020 and his body was found three months later.

Addressing the coroner during the inquest in Winchester, Ms Morris said her husband was a “quiet extrovert” who “thrived on interactions with others”.

“He was genuinely interested in people.

Richard Morris. Pic: FCO
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Mr Morris had been working on the government’s COVID task force. Pic: FCO

“His kindness and compassion shone through even when there was a language barrier.”

After several years living in Nepal, the couple returned to the UK, where Mr Morris worked for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London ahead of their expected posting to Fiji.

Mr Morris ‘enjoyed his work’

Ms Morris told the inquest that her husband was “proud” to work with the FCDO and that he “enjoyed his work”.

“He found it varied, stimulating and compelling,” she said.

The inquest heard that Mr Morris found returning to London difficult, and he was assigned to Harry Dunn’s case, who was a 19-year-old killed when a car crashed into his motorbike outside RAF Croughton in Northampton, which sparked a diplomatic incident.

Posters appealing for information on missing diplomat Richard Morris have been put up at the Alice Holt Forest near Farnham
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Mr Morris’s body was found in Alice Holt Forest.

“It was a double whammy… of media interest and the fact that it’s somebody else’s tragedy,” Ms Morris said.

According to Ms Morris, her husband “never liked media interest” in his working life and was “fearful of being ripped apart by the UK press”.

COVID task force was ‘most stressful’

He was asked to support the government’s COVID-19 taskforce, helping coordinate briefings for ministers, at a time when Boris Johnson was in intensive care and news about coronavirus was changing every day.

Ms Morris described the job as “the most stressful job he had ever done”, adding her husband “was extremely stressed” and that he felt there was not enough time for him to ensure all information provided was accurate.

Isington Road, near Alton,  where he was last seen
Image:
Isington Road, near Alton, where he was last seen

“On top of that, the potential fallout from any error he might make was likely to be very public.

“If any information error got passed him, the government or the Civil Service would be torn apart in the press,” she said.

On 6 May 2020, Mr Morris went for a run near his house, something he often did to relieve stress but did not return.

The inquest heard that police were called and extensive searches were carried out.

On 31 August, his body was discovered in Alice Holt Forest.

The inquest continues.

:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.

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