Surrey

Deepcut: Army recruits 'viewed as a sexual challenge'

Cheryl James Image copyright CHERYL JAMES FAMILY
Image caption Pte Cheryl James died at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in 1995

Some military officers view new recruits as a "sexual challenge", a senior Army officer told the inquest into the death of a teenage soldier.

The court in Woking heard of a "toxic" environment at the Deepcut barracks in Surrey where Pte Cheryl James, 18, from Denbighshire, was found dead in 1995.

A senior soldier spoke of a sexualised atmosphere, indiscipline and inadequate supervision at the base.

A fellow recruit said Pte James had been chased round a room by a sergeant.

Pte James was one of four recruits to die from bullet wounds at the base between 1995 and 2002.

An initial inquest into her death recorded an open verdict but that was overturned by the High Court, which ordered the new hearing.

'Sexualised atmosphere'

Alison Foster QC, representing Pte James's family, said a report in 2002 had suggested the atmosphere at Deepcut led to soldiers becoming "bored, demotivated and increasingly prone to indiscipline", creating a "psychological disadvantage" to weaker individuals.

She suggested to Brig John Donnelly, who is responsible for Army welfare, that there was a heavily sexualised atmosphere at Deepcut, with "abuse and misuse of power".

Image copyright CHERYL JAMES FAMILY
Image caption A statement from Pte James's mother, Doreen, was read to the inquest

Brig Donnelly replied: "There was certainly a sexualised atmosphere at Deepcut, yes."

Ms Foster said: "Do you accept that this could present a morally chaotic environment for a young female person of teenage years? The pressure on a young female recruit could be intolerable, couldn't it?"

'Have his way with her'

Brig Donnelly replied: "Yes. We did not have the structures in place to provide a proper duty of care."

Asked by counsel to the coroner Bridget Dolan whether the Army accepted that "some officers saw recruits as a sexual challenge", Brig Donnelly, who is the Army's director of personal services, said: "Yes we do. Sadly, not everybody subscribed to the set of values that we wish."

Jane Worboys, who did her basic training with Pte James after joining up in May 1995, said shortly before her death Pte James was locked in a room by a sergeant who chased her and "tried to have his way with her".

She said after hearing a shot on the morning Pte James died, a civilian guard told her that she had shot herself. Ms Worboys said: "I told her Cheryl wouldn't have done that."

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

On the third day of the inquest into Pte James's death, Woking Coroner's Court heard sexual activity was so rife at the barracks that a room was unofficially put aside for young men to have sexual relationships, which were banned in rooms.

Ms Foster suggested there was a misogynistic atmosphere at Deepcut, adding: "The pressure on a young female recruit could be intolerable, couldn't it?"

Brig Donnelly replied: "Yes. We did not have the structures in place to provide a proper duty of care."

The inquest continues.

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