Deepcut barracks death: New inquest hope for family

Private Cheryl James's father Des believes a new inquest would allow the grieving process "to really end"

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The family of a soldier who died at Deepcut barracks has been given permission to seek a fresh inquest.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC said he would allow the family of Pte Cheryl James to ask the High Court to order a new investigation.

Pte James, 18, was found dead from a single gunshot wound in November 1995. An inquest recorded an open verdict.

She was one of four soldiers who died at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse.

Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray also died from gunshot wounds. A coroner recorded a verdict of suicide for Mr Benton, but inquests into the other three deaths returned open verdicts.

Start Quote

We may now finally achieve a meaningful inquiry into her death”

End Quote Doreen and Des James
Sexual harassment

Responding to the attorney general's decision, Pte James's parents, Doreen and Des James, said it had been a "truly emotional day".

Pte James had been undergoing initial training at Deepcut when she was found dead with a single bullet wound to her head.

Mr and Mrs James believe their daughter, who grew up in Llangollen in Denbighshire, had suffered sexual harassment and bullying, and said her death was treated as a suicide, despite evidence to the contrary.

They had repeatedly called for a fresh inquest or inquiry after legal campaign group Liberty helped them to uncover failings in the original investigation.

Deepcut barracks Deepcut barracks saw four deaths over seven years

A spokesman for the attorney general said: "The application [to seek a new inquest] was made to the attorney general on the basis that the original inquest made insufficient enquiry into the circumstances of [Pte James's] death, and because new evidence is now available that was not put before the inquest in December 1995.

"The attorney general granted his consent because he concluded that it was in the interests of justice for the application for a new inquest to go forward and to be heard by the High Court."

'Relieved and delighted'

Second inquests can only be held if the High Court quashes the original verdict, following an application by the attorney general, or someone else acting with his permission.

The Deepcut deaths

Privates Benton, James, Gray and Collinson, who all died at Deepcut
  • June 1995: Pte Sean Benton (far left), from Hastings, East Sussex, found dead with five bullet wounds to chest. Verdict: Suicide
  • Nov 1995: Pte Cheryl James (second left), from Llangollen, Denbighshire, found dead with single bullet wound to head. Open verdict
  • Sept 2001: Pte Geoff Gray (second right), from Seaham, County Durham, found dead with two gunshot wounds. Five shots were fired, three never found. Open verdict
  • Mar 2002: Pte James Collinson (far right), from Perth, found dead with single gunshot wound. Open verdict

In practice, applications to launch fresh inquests tend to be dealt with reasonably quickly, providing there are clear grounds to justify the move and no substantial arguments are raised in opposition.

The families of Hillsborough disaster victims were granted fresh inquests within months of the Attorney General saying he wanted judges to review the original verdicts.

Mr and Mrs James said: "We're relieved and delighted by the attorney general's decision. It's truly an emotional day - it's been a long and painful process, with so many hurdles, but we never considered giving up.

"Cheryl had her whole life in front of her. When our young people lose their lives serving their country, not only do they deserve a full and independent investigation into their deaths, it must be their absolute right.

"We may now finally achieve a meaningful inquiry into her death and we hope it brings about real change for future recruits."

Liberty said that there were 44 volumes of statements, documents, notes and photographs which had not been fully or properly examined by the original inquest.

"The attorney general's decision gives Cheryl's grieving family a long-overdue chance to discover the truth," said Liberty's solicitor Emma Norton.

"Until now their battle for answers has been repeatedly snubbed by a state that views the fundamental human rights of our troops as an optional extra. This young girl was preparing for a career in service - the least her family deserves is justice."

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Pte Cheryl James.

"This decision is a matter for the attorney general and the courts.

"If a new inquest is ordered, we will of course provide support to the coroner when needed."

Surrey Police said that in early 2012, solicitors for Mr James had requested "all material" relating to the investigation into his daughter's death, and the force had provided all relevant documents by July 2013.

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