Deepcut inquest: Army recruits 'took illegal drugs'

Pte Cheryl James Image copyright Cheryl James's family
Image caption Pte Cheryl James took "speed" while she was out with other recruits, her friend told the inquest

Army recruits were left running around taking illegal drugs and drinking while under age, an inquest into the death of a teenage soldier has been told.

The court heard of chaos and lack of supervision at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey, where Pte Cheryl James, 18, was found dead from a single bullet wound.

One of the last people to see her alive described Deepcut as a "prison camp".

WO1 Sarah Ditchfield, who trained with Pte James, admitted taking illegal drugs with recruits at a nightclub.

She said Pte James had taken speed, a class B amphetamine.

"If she went out she would take something," WO1 Ditchfield told Woking Coroner's Court. "We were 17-year-old kids who had money in our pockets.

"There wasn't enough NCOs (non-commissioned officers) to control the amount of recruits they had."

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

An initial inquest into her death in 1995 recorded an open verdict but that was overturned by the High Court, which ordered the new hearing.

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

WO1 Ditchfield broke down in tears as she recalled hearing about her friend's death and said Pte James's boyfriend Paul Wilkinson was "in bits".

She also told how Pte James had a second relationship with another recruit, James Carr-Minns.

"[She] found herself in a situation where she didn't want to finish with one of them," said WO1 Ditchfield.

'Prison camp'

A statement by Nicola Clifford - one of the last people to see Pte James alive - was read to the court. It said: "Her demeanour seemed fine and she was pleasant to me.

"I would describe Deepcut as a prison camp where we were not allowed to have a life."

Another former Deepcut recruit, Marina Fawcett, told the inquest Pte James was desperate to leave the Army and had "joked" about killing herself.

"She literally mentioned 'we're going to shoot ourselves on guard duty one day aren't we?' and I said 'yes'," Ms Fawcett said.

"She was saying it as general banter... I don't know why she said it, it just sounded like a laugh like when someone says something stupid."

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

Ms Fawcett said one of the training sergeants "had a bit of a thing" for Pte James but she rejected his advances.

"She said he was horrible," she said.

"They [the senior officers] were on a power trip and they got a buzz off it."

Pte James had been called a "slag" by fellow trainees, the inquest heard.

Ms Fawcett said that on the morning of Pte James's death they had an argument about her love life.

"I might have been winding her up but I knew in a couple of minutes she would be fine," she said.

"That was the last time I seen her. She just seemed her normal self, she seemed fine."

Image copyright Getty Images

Heather Williams, who taught Pte James for five years, said her problems stemmed from the fact she was adopted.

She told the inquest: "She was emotional about not knowing her true background and wanted to know where she belonged.

"She had an antisocial attitude and was a tough nut to crack."

"When I found out about her death I was shocked, but not surprised," she said.

The inquest continues.

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