KEITH NEWBERY Diplomacy is always vital at times of grief

Gary Speed had only been dead about 48 hours when Joey Barton went in with all studs showing.

The QPR midfielder – who has become a bit of a two-bob philosopher on Twitter – expressed the view suicide was a selfish act.

It wasn’t the most profound observation ever made and he wasn’t saying anything the rest of us weren’t thinking.

It’s just that the rest of us had the decency not to say it at such a sensitive time.

Among the mangled emotions afflicting those closest to Speed is the overwhelming belief that they should have realised what was happening and could therefore have done something to prevent it.

In my experience of such tragedies – and over the course of a working life in journalism you get to cover quite a few inquests – this is not the case.

Suicides are rarely a cry for help gone desperately wrong; they are deliberate acts which often defy all reason.

Speed’s family and friends insist he had no obvious problems; that the last time they saw him he was acting normally.

This is why coroners always used to add the caveat ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed’ when recording a suicide verdict. This implies that for a brief, awful moment the victims responded to an urge to act in a way which was so grotesquely out of character that a proper motive would be impossible to deduce.

Many years ago, while editing a weekly newspaper, I commissioned some crosswords from a highly-intelligent man who had fallen on hard times. About six months later he took a bottle of whiskey and two large bottles of pills back to his lonely bedsit and ended it all.

At the inquest it was disclosed he had written a letter addressed to the coroner in which he politely requested that the phrase ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed’ be omitted from the verdict.

“I know precisely what I am doing and why,” he wrote.

The coroner complied with his wishes and it’s the only time I’ve heard of such an outcome. It was an unusually tidy conclusion to a personal tragedy, because most suicides leave in their wake a grief made all the more acute by the irrationality of what has taken place.

* £15k for painting? Tough times indeed

When the newly-enlightened John Bercow took over as Speaker of the House of Commons he made a point of eschewing the traditional robes and paraphernalia which went with the job.

He was thought to be flaunting his ‘new man’ credentials as well as appeasing the left-wing tendencies of his ghastly wife.

However, he’s not beyond indulging his notorious vanity at public expense – as his new coat of arms clearly shows.

Designed at a cost of £15,000 it has arrived at the same time as his official portrait, which set the nation back a mere £22,000. Many more thousands of pounds were also taken from the public purse to refurbish the palatial apartments he shares with his classy consort.

Austerity? What austerity?