Deepcut: Police 'under pressure' from Milly Dowler case

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

Police were under "immense pressure" during the investigation in to the death of Pte Cheryl James at Deepcut following the murder of Milly Dowler.

Surrey Police re-investigated the army's original conclusion that Pte James, 18 from Llangollen in Denbighshire killed herself in 2002.

A potential suspect in her death was prompted by police to agree with a suicide theory, her inquest is told.

Ex-Det Ch Supt Craig Denholm denied the claims.

Lawyers for the James family said Surrey Police had "closed down" theories other than suicide, the hearing at Woking Coroner's Court was told.

Mr Denholm said his colleagues were "well briefed", "thorough" and did "a good job".

He said he had "badly expressed himself" in a meeting in which the minutes stated he had said the "spotlight" should be turned away from the role the army may have played in Pte James's death.

'Humiliated boyfriend'

The court also heard another officer involved in the investigation resigned "before he could be sacked" after allegations he had inappropriately "chatted up" witnesses.

Alison Foster representing the James family, said a fellow soldier "should have been considered a suspect" because he was the "humiliated boyfriend of the deceased".

Reading out a transcript of an interview the police officer conducted with the soldier in 2002 Ms Foster said: "It's quite feasible she shot herself. I don't think all the conspiracy theories really count.

"I think she perhaps struggled with letting people down.

"It's only a theory, do you think it's possible?"

The soldier replied "Yeah, but I've been through it a few times and there was just nothing. I couldn't think of a reason."

The officer continued: "I can only say from experience with a friend of mine you never know what's coming."

Ms Foster put it to Mr Denholm: "He is a person who ought to have been treated as a suspect.

"It is quite wrong to answer him by anecdote with reference to suicide."

Mr Denholm replied: "The only way I feel I can give justice to your answer is to fully understand the context of the interview."

Milly Dowler investigation

He later denied "briefing" journalists away from a murder theory.

"The way the media had reported the deaths at Deepcut was wrong - people lived in Deepcut and soldiers still served there. It was portrayed that there was a murderer loose," he told the inquest.

He said the investigation into Pte James's death was "well run".

Image copyright Surrey Police
Image caption Milly Dowler, 13, was murdered in 2002 by Levi Bellfield

There were things that weren't absolutely perfect but I completely hold firm on the belief that the people involved in this investigation were well briefed and thorough."

He said Surrey Police were under "immense pressure" at the time because of the investigation into the death of Milly Dowler and attacks by the serial rapist Antoni Imiela around the M25.

"I was taking officers off a the case of a serial rapist and one of the most high profile murders in the country. There was not a resource issue."

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

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

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

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