Surrey

Cheryl James: Army apologises for Deepcut 'failings'

Pte Cheryl James Image copyright PA
Image caption Pte Cheryl James died at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in 1995

The Army has apologised to the family of a teenage soldier who died at a base in Surrey 20 years ago for "failing" young recruits.

Brig John Donnelly told an inquest into the death of Cheryl James the Army had not fully realised the risks of placing young soldiers on lone guard duty.

Pte James, 18, from Denbighshire, was found dead at Deepcut barracks in 1995, amid claims of bullying and abuse.

The inquest is the second into her death after new evidence was disclosed.

Brig Donnelly, the Army's director of personal services, told the coroner: "I recognise we didn't put sufficient guidance in place.

"In 1995 we didn't fully recognise the risk of relatively inexperienced trainees, putting them on armed guard in relatively isolated positions... the risk that people may have to other people in relation to discharging the weapons."

Suicide claim 'questioned'

He added: "I owe Mr and Mrs James an apology for those failings."

Earlier, the family's barrister, Alison Foster QC, told the hearing a police officer called in to review the case had questioned the Army's view that Pte James had taken her own life.

She said the Surrey Police officer had cast doubts on the suicide theory because of the circumstances in which her body had been found.

Reading from the statement made by an officer who reviewed Pte James's death in 2002, she said: "There was no exit wound, the apparent lack of blood on the ground, the way in which the hood of [her] waterproof jacket was covering the face... any one of these indicators would not cause suspicion... but taken together, they ask questions about the way and the manner of Private James's death."

Image copyright PA
Image caption A childhood friend told the inquest Cheryl James said she hated life in the army when she returned home from Deepcut

The teenager, from Llangollen, was one of four young recruits to die in shootings at the barracks in a five-year period.

A previous inquest, in 1995, recorded an open verdict, but a new one was ordered by the High Court after Surrey Police were ordered to disclose new evidence.

'Hated the Army'

Pte James's father, Des, told the inquest that the police officer's statement had confirmed suspicions that he and his wife, Doreen, had had at the time of their daughter's death.

A statement from Mrs James, who was unable to attend the hearing, said Pte James had been a "caring and happy child" but had seen a psychologist after taking an overdose of paracetamol while at school.

She said she had bought her daughter a diary with a distinctive cover and said: "I believe she would have continued to keep a diary while in the Army... I've always found it strange that the diary has never been found."

The court heard there had been three potential suspects around the time Pte James died, including two "unknown males".

Pte James's schoolfriend, Lydia Baksh, told the hearing she hated the Army and had not wanted to return after her last visit home.

"She just wanted to go Awol," she said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Privates Benton, James, Gray and Collinson, all died at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002

Who were the Deepcut four? Background to the deaths and timeline of events

Ms Baksh said her friend was happy and bubbly, but had come to hate life in the Army.

She also said Pte James had said she had been raped aged 13 or 14 after meeting boys at a party.

"She didn't speak about it much, but after that it really affected her," Ms Baksh told the court in Woking.

She was also asked about an incident of self-harming by Pte James.

Ms Baksh said: "It was definitely after the rape occurred but it wasn't with the intent to kill herself."

She agreed she had initially thought her friend had killed herself when told she had died, but she added: "Now I wouldn't say I felt certain."

Another friend, Kirstie Mansfield, said the conclusion that Pte James had died by suicide had been "inflicted on us", and restated her belief that the soldier had not killed herself.

The inquest continues.

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