Surrey

Deepcut inquest: Army recruits told to 'keep quiet'

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

A friend of Pte Cheryl James who died at Deepcut barracks has told an inquest "they were trying to keep us quiet" after her death.

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

Pte Helen Miller said she had been pressured by a senior officer 20 years ago to say her friend was happy.

She said all leave had been cancelled at the Surrey base after her death.

She said she had been told by an unnamed sergeant major at the time to "behave myself, to stop being hysterical. I was told a couple of times 'you wont go to the funeral if you carry on'.

"I think they were trying to keep us quiet. It was damage limitation." she said.

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

John Beggs, representing Surrey Police, asked Pte Miller about a statement she had made in 2002 in which she said she always thought Pte James had killed herself.

Pte Miller told the inquest: "Now, whether I believe it, I have no idea about what happened to her on that day."

Giving evidence from abroad via video link, she said: "I find it very strange that she would open up to me and then out of nowhere, kill herself, without talking about it and without getting upset."

'Struggle' at Deepcut

On Thursday, the hearing was told Pte James had been in relationships with two male recruits at the barracks.

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

Peter Mant, representing Pte James's family, asked Pte Miller if relationship problems could have caused her friend to take her own life.

She said: "No. Everyone had boyfriend trouble".

It was not something that was causing her "great upset", but was more "indecisiveness", she told the hearing.

Pte Miller said: "I think it was a struggle for her at Deepcut."

She told the inquest recruits had talked about the death of Pte Sean Benton from Hastings who was found with five gunshot wounds in June 1995.

They discussed how they would kill themselves, if they were to do it.

Pte Miller said: "It was the general consensus to shoot yourself [in the head] would be the easiest way to do it.

"Cheryl was part of that conversation. It was a conversation many were having, not Cheryl alone."

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

The inquest continues.

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

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