Former head of the Royal Marines hanged himself at his Winchester home after having ‘concerns about his marriage and career’, inquest hears

The former head of the Royal Marines died as a result of hanging after having ‘concerns about his marriage and service career’, a hearing to open the inquest into his death was told today.

Major General Matthew Holmes, 54, was found in a bedroom at his home in Winchester, Hampshire, on October 2 – and his body was formally identified by his wife Lea, the inquest heard.

Police also attended another unspecified incident at the family home on September 22. Major General Holmes, who served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, was Commandant General from 2019 until April.

Hampshire coroner Jason Pegg told the hearing in Winchester today: ‘It’s suspected that Matthew Holmes had a number of concerns at the time of his death including matters relating to his marriage and his service career.’ 

Major General Holmes commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008 and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007.

The father-of-two was also awarded a CBE in 2019 and has been described as ‘one of our most senior and highly decorated Royal Marines’. The inquest was adjourned for a full hearing on February 10 next year.

The hearing came after the Daily Mail revealed last week that Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the newly appointed head of the Armed Forces, undermined Major General Holmes, according to messages from the officer.

Former First Sea Lord Sir Tony became the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job and will lead 159,000 soldiers, sailors and air personnel from next month. 

Major General Matthew Holmes, who has died, won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was claimed to have overruled the military to ensure Sir Tony was appointed as Chief of the Defence Staff – even going against his own Defence Secretary’s advice.

Defence sources told the Daily Telegraph that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had recommended promoting General Sir Patrick Sanders, who is in charge of the country’s Special Forces and military cyber operations.

The Ministry of Defence is also understood to have favoured Sir Patrick for the role, but the Prime Minister went against this and opted for former First Sea Lord Sir Tony. This is understood to have been because of Sir Tony’s naval background, which is seen as being vital to the Government’s ambitions to build better global trading links.

Sir Tony and Major General Holmes were previously close friends, but fell out bitterly over changes to the Marines this year. The dispute led to Major General Holmes leaving his post as Commandant General in April – halfway through a three-year appointment.

Last week a Daily Mail investigation found that he felt deeply let down by the admiral, who was his boss as the Marines are part of the Navy. 

A directive from Sir Tony’s office included a gagging order banning the Marines officer from discussing key issues with colleagues, including the commander of the US Marine Corps (USMC), General David Berger.

Major General Holmes was also warned to ‘expect a more limited role’ in the Marines. The order and the tone of Sir Tony’s remarks left the father-of-two deeply upset.

He wrote to a friend: ‘I’ve had a very tough year. I feel beaten down. Not listened to, merely run over by someone with no military judgment: Too much is about appearance.

‘I don’t trust Radakin. It’s been awful. Awful. You should see the tone of some of the emails I’ve had from Radakin. Basically imposing his authority and keeping me constrained.

‘Kept away from ministers. All about his narrative. He doesn’t get the corps. But I know Gen Berger recognises my concerns (another one that Radakin ordered me not to engage with regarding my post).

‘Radakin sees himself as owning the USMC relationship. Berger doesn’t! At all. He wants to talk to me. How do you think I feel…’

Sir Tony’s efforts to bring the Commandant General into line came to a head late last year after a series of heated arguments between the two about the future of Major General Holmes’ post.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson overruled the military to ensure Royal Navy admiral Sir Tony Radakin was appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces, it has been claimed. The two are pictured together on HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth in May

A document distributed to senior officers read: ‘I [Sir Tony] will engage with ministers and our international partners. The debate has to be toned down and ideally stopped. This is about my authority. International engagement by CGRM [Major General Holmes] is to stop. The CGRM focus is to ensure the corps delivers on its tasks, seeking opportunities for increased integration with the Royal Navy and preparing for a more limited role as CGRM from April 2021.’

The pair are also said to have disagreed about closer integration of the Marines within the Navy – a move resisted by Major General Holmes.

The complaint in Major General Holmes’ text to a friend that ‘too much is about appearance’ was said to refer to jibes about his height – he was 5ft 2in, according to media reports.

But he was well-liked by Marines and enjoyed their company. He served in all Britain’s recent conflicts and won a Distinguished Service Order for commanding troops under fire.

Sir Tony will take over as Chief of Defence Staff from Army General Sir Nick Carter on November 30.

The admiral was described last week as an ‘outstanding military leader’ and, as head of the Navy, has been credited with deploying more naval personnel on the frontline and more ships at sea.

He is being replaced as First Sea Lord by Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key, who led the UK’s airlift of British citizens and Afghans from Kabul after the Taliban takeover.

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