Deepcut inquests: Campaign ends for James Collinson hearing

By Tanya Gupta
BBC News

Image source, Family handout
Image caption,
James Collinson, from Perth, died at the age of 17

The parents of a recruit shot dead at Deepcut Barracks 17 years ago have dropped their bid for a new inquest.

Yvonne Collinson-Heath and Jim Collinson said they saw the families of three other soldiers who died at the Army base in Surrey face new inquests and they did not have the strength.

The first inquest into the death of James Collinson, from Perth, ended in an open verdict.

His mother said the family still backs a public inquiry into the shootings.

'Children with guns'

Privates Sean Benton and Cheryl James died in 1995, followed by Pte Geoff Gray in 2001 and Pte Collinson in 2002.

Inquests at the time led to a suicide verdict for Pte Benton and open verdicts for the others. Three fresh inquests ended in suicide verdicts for Ptes Benton, James and Gray.

Fresh calls for an inquiry came from the family of Pte Gray, from Seaham, County Durham, this year.

His mother Diane Gray, from Hackney, London, said the recruits were children carrying loaded weapons.

Image source, Family handout
Image caption,
Pte Collinson, seen here with his father, was found with a single gunshot wound through his chin

Mrs Collinson-Heath, from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, said the inquests left the other families with unanswered questions.

"Chief among them, for us, will always be why it took four young people to die violently before the British Army and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted that there was something seriously wrong," she said.

"Neither of us has the emotional or physical strength to sit silently through months of evidence about our son, listening to barristers who never knew him attempt to persuade a court that, notwithstanding the absence of evidence, our child was, probably, secretly suicidal."

She said her son was a child when he died, alone, armed when he should not have been, and on guard duty in the dark.

Image source, Family handout
Image caption,
Over the years, James's family described him as happy and cheerful

The family had asked for formal apologies from the MoD and Surrey Police for their failures, she said.

This year, Judge Peter Rook QC criticised the investigation at the time as "cursory" and carried out "with a closed mind".

The family's solicitor, Emma Norton from Liberty, said lines of questioning "deployed against" the family of Pte James had informed the Collinsons' decision.

Those lines included reminding Des James, Pte James's father, that police had also been hunting Milly Dowler's killer and suggesting he might have been distracting them, she said.

Image source, Family handout
Image caption,
A first inquest returned an open verdict

Ms Norton said the families had been "stonewalled and treated with contempt for years" by the Army and Surrey Police.

"It is testament to their courage, determination and dignity that they have come as far as they have," she added.

Following the inquest for Pte Benton, from Hastings, Sussex, Surrey Police opened a fresh criminal investigation into allegations including assaults at Deepcut. That investigation is still active.

Ms Norton said the family of Pte James, from Llangollen, north Wales, remained concerned and were watching the investigation closely.

An MoD spokesman said the deaths had led to fundamental changes in training and care of soldiers, adding: "Any death is a tragedy and our thoughts remain with the families and friends."

A spokesman for Surrey Police said: "Surrey Police acknowledges and has previously accepted the mistakes made during our initial investigation into deaths at Deepcut Barracks, which has resulted in further suffering for the families. This is a matter of deep regret.

"For the past five years, the force has worked to fully support each of the new coronial processes with a dedicated team of officers disclosing thousands of documents.

"We respect the decision of the Collinson family and are in the process of issuing a formal apology to them."

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