North East Wales

Call for fresh inquest into 1995 death of Cheryl James at Deepcut barracks

Privates Benton, James, Gray and Collinson, who all died at Deepcut
Image caption Privates Benton, James, Gray and Collinson, who all died at Deepcut

Calls have been made by a human rights group for a fresh inquest into the death of an 18-year-old Army recruit from Denbighshire.

Liberty is representing the parents of Cheryl James, from Llangollen, who died in November 1995 at Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

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

The attorney general's office said it was considering the application.

Pte Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found dead with gunshot wounds at the barracks in June 1995, just months before Pte James's death, also from gunshot wounds.

Independent ombudsman

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 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.

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.

It also concluded that Ptes Gray, James and Benton had committed suicide.

Photographs

An inquest into Pte James' death held shortly after it happened recorded an open verdict.

On Friday, Liberty announced it is applying for a fresh inquest into Pte James' death and will soon be doing the same on behalf of the parents of Pte Benton.

The group said its application to the attorney general comes after using the Human Rights Act to get access to documentation about Pte James' death that her family have never seen, claiming 44 volumes of statements, documents, notes and photographs contain evidence that has never before been properly examined and suggesting witnesses may have lied.

A fresh inquest can be ordered if there is evidence of fraud, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry or new evidence.

If the attorney general gives his consent, the matter will be referred to the High Court for consideration, Liberty said.

'Stain on the integrity'

Legal officer Emma Norton said: "Cheryl's grieving family have been consistently snubbed by the state in their quest to discover what really happened to their daughter - only a fresh inquest can deliver the truth they so deserve.

"The human rights of our troops are worthy of exactly the same protection as everyone else - until what happened to these young people at Deepcut is competently, calmly and independently investigated, justice will not be done".

Pte James' parents Des and Doreen James added: "We're disappointed it has taken close to 18 years for us to even get disclosure of the evidence related to Cheryl's premature death.

"No family should ever have to go through what we've experienced, and the fact there still has never been any meaningful inquiry into the four deaths at Deepcut remains a stain on the integrity of everyone involved.

"All four were placed in the care of the state and all four were badly let down.

"The implications of the new evidence is both serious and extremely worrying for us but we have every confidence in Liberty and our entire legal team."

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office confirmed that it had received an application from Liberty seeking the attorney general's consent to apply for a new inquest into Pte James' death, and it was being considered.

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