Wales

Deepcut: Des James hopes for 'closure' over daughter Cheryl

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPrivate Cheryl James was one of four soldiers to die at Deepcut barracks

The father of a soldier who died at Deepcut barracks 18 years ago hopes the decision to allow him to seek a new inquest will bring "closure".

The attorney general is allowing the family of Pte Cheryl James to ask the High Court for a new inquest.

Pte James, 18, was found dead at the barracks in Surrey in 1995 and an inquest recorded an open verdict.

Her father Des, from Llanymynech, Powys, said a new inquest would allow the grieving process "to really end".

Pte James, who grew up in Llangollen in Denbighshire, was found dead from a single gunshot wound in November 1995.

She was one of four soldiers who died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002, sparking allegations of bullying and abuse.

Pte Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found dead in June 1995, also from gunshot wounds.

In September 2001, 17-year-old Pte Geoff Gray, from Seaham, Co Durham, was found with two gunshot wounds to his head, and six months later, Pte James Collinson, from Perth, also 17, was found with a single gunshot wound upwards through his chin.

A suicide verdict was recorded on Pte Benton, with open verdicts recorded on the other three soldiers.

A Surrey Police investigation was launched into the deaths in 2002, following pressure from the families who rejected suggestions the soldiers had committed suicide and called for a public inquiry.

Sexual harassment

Later, a report by the Adult Learning Inspectorate, commissioned by the armed forces minister, called for substantial reforms in the training of new recruits.

A later investigation by deputy high court judge Nicholas Blake QC called for an independent ombudsman for the armed forces, but rejected the families' calls for a public inquiry.

Mr James and his wife Doreen believe their daughter suffered sexual harassment and bullying and said her death was treated as suicide, despite evidence to the contrary.

Mr James called for a public inquiry, and the case was taken up by campaign group Liberty who helped the family obtain statements, documents and photographs which it is claimed were not properly examined in the original inquest.

Image caption Mr James believes he may have to wait years for answers

Mr James said it had been a "pretty emotional day" when he was told he could apply for a new inquest.

"We have always been very, very confident that this day would come.

"The more we learned about Cheryl's case and her death, the more we were sure that this has not been properly investigated and, of course, there should have been a public inquiry."

He said the announcement was a "huge milestone," adding: "In a way it's a vindication. My daughter's not had justice before and finally we have a pretty important character in the legal system who has agreed with us and made a line in the sand."

He now hopes to be granted a new inquest in front of a jury, which, he says would be equivalent to "the inquiry that we've long felt was overdue".

Describing the grief of the past 18 years, Mr James said: "Everybody says that when they lose someone 'there isn't a day I don't think of them'.

'Wonderful step'

"When you lose a child it's even more intense and I'm sure that other families who've lost children would testify to that.

"I can, hand on heart, absolutely without a shadow of a doubt say that there hasn't a day gone by, but I do think that if we could bring some closure to this then the grieving process would really end and you could draw a line."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLiberty solicitor Emma Norton on the organisation's role in helping Cheryl James' family

He said the length of time taken to reach this stage made him "intensely angry", but said the "frustration of the process has long gone".

He added: "I think that the government of the UK over many years - Mr Blair's government, Mr Brown's government, the coalition - I think at some stage they're all going to have to hang their heads in shame on this, because if four kids who sign up to defend this country, and in the middle of their basic training... they're shot and killed... if that doesn't justify a public inquiry, quite honestly I don't know what does."

Mr James said receiving permission to apply for a new inquest was a "wonderful step", but added: "I'm not so foolish as to believe we're anywhere near the end.

"We've passed a pretty serious hurdle - one which, quite frankly, I often wondered if we ever would pass it... but tomorrow we start again and let's get on to the next one.

"I think there's still a few years but it's a great sign and it's a great start."

Surrey Police said on Tuesday it had responded to the family's request for material on a voluntary basis and had provided all relevant documents by July 2013.

It said in a statement: "The force will now await any notification of the High Court process and our thoughts remain with the families of Cheryl James and the other three young soldiers who died at the Princess Royal Barracks between 1995 and 2002."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites