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Open verdict on Rinehart bodyguard death

PAOLA TOTARO
Last updated 08:28 13/06/2014

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Jerry Rouwhorst, a special forces soldier decorated for bravery, took his own life believing he had disgraced his friend and employer Ginia Rinehart, the daughter of Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart, a London coroner's court has been told.

However the coroner, Dr Shirley Radcliff, has delivered an open verdict on the 35-year-old's death, ruling that the level of alcohol in his system and a distressed text message sent to Rinehart offering his resignation as her bodyguard meant she could not be sure he intended to kill himself.

The Westminster Coroner's Court heard that Rinehart, 27, had spent close to three months living in London's upmarket Dorchester Hotel and was due to fly home to Australia the day Rouwhorst's body was found.

The two were booked into separate hotel rooms on the seventh floor but had shared an inter-connected sitting room.

The hotel's security chief, Justin Fuller, first on the scene, said Rinehart and Rouwhorst had spent the evening celebrating with friends but had returned to the hotel in the early hours of Sunday, March 16, 2014.

"There was a farewell party the night before they were flying out. They were out to the late hours and there was drinking involved", he told the court.

"After a call ... when I got to the room, I found a hysterical female pointing to the connecting door ... I found the door blocked by a body of a man", he said.

According to Police Constable Aaron King, who attended the scene in the following minutes, Rinehart was distraught, crying and at one point she fainted.

He told the court that she had received a text at 10.27am local time from Rouwhorst telling her he intended to resign his position but she was sleeping and didn't see it till midday: "She went to his room straight away when she woke up but she couldn't get in and called security when it was clear a body was blocking it.

"She said she last saw him at 8am when he came to pick her up from Chelsea ... she said he had drunk too much, she felt he was ashamed of how much he had drunk, felt he had brought shame on her and her friends and was devastated that he thought he could have embarrassed her" Constable King said.

Rouwhorst's blood alcohol levels after his death were found to be one and a half times more than the legal driving limit, Radcliff told the court, suggesting that earlier, when he went to pick Rinehart up from Chelsea to bring her back to the hotel he could have been more intoxicated.

However Radcliff described Rouwhorst to the court as a "highly professional man who had packed a huge amount into his 35 years", kept himself mentally and physically fit and rarely drank alcohol.

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She said his family, friends and Rinehart's family also described a man who was highly controlled, took great responsibility in his work and was unused to drinking, let alone to excess.

To return a verdict of suicide, Radcliff said, the court needed to be sure that he was intent on ending his own life.

"I believe with level of alcohol in system and lack of previous self-harm incidents and the possibility that he sent text as a cry for help and was hoping to be found means I can't be sure he intended to kill himself.

"This may have been suicide, I can't be sure. It may have been an accident, I can't be sure. The only appropriate conclusion is an open one".

Rouwhorst, who had been decorated for bravery just two days before his death for saving a man's life in Dili, East Timor was given CPR at the hotel by security, and paramedics managed to restore a pulse.

The court was told this would suggest that he had only made the attempt on his life around 15 minutes before.

Rouwhorst was taken to St Mary's Hospital but died three days later on March 19.

- AAP

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