Surrey

Cheryl James 'bubbly and happy' on day she died inquest told

Cheryl James Image copyright James family
Image caption Cheryl James was thought to be the soldier guarding the gate

A civilian Army driver has described a young soldier as "bubbly" and "happy" moments before she was found dead at Deepcut barracks.

An inquest into the death of Pte Cheryl James heard she was thought to be guarding the gates on the day she died.

John Rowney had gone to Deepcut in 1995 to collect an officer and said he had exchanged a joke with Pte James.

Driving back minutes later, he found the gates shut and was told a soldier had been found shot near the perimeter.

Mr Rowney, a former military policeman, told the hearing in Woking: "I just remember thinking it can't be that girl. She wasn't a suicide risk. She was too bubbly."

Pte James, who was 18 and from Llangollen in Denbighshire, was one of four recruits to die at the Surrey base in seven years.

She was found with a fatal bullet wound in November 1995.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Pte James was one of four recruits to die at Deepcut

Mr Rowney told the inquest he did not give a statement at the time.

"I expected the police to come around and talk to people and ask questions," he said.

But he said when he heard nothing he thought the case was closed.

Mr Rowney finally approached Surrey Police after seeing a Panorama programme on Deepcut in 2002, the hearing was told.

He said: "I didn't believe Cheryl could have committed suicide, if it was Cheryl who dealt with me."

He denied confusing what he had seen on the programme with his memories of events.

'Gate was locked'

Mr Rowney told the inquest he recalled seeing up to five people at the gate that morning, including a dark-haired man wearing a Denison smock.

The inquest heard this was a detail he did not include in an earlier statement when he said he saw a male and female soldier, both wearing brown combats.

He rejected suggestions he had confused his memory of that day with that of other mornings at Deepcut, where he continued to work after Pte James's death.

Nicholas Moss, representing the Ministry of Defence, said differences in Mr Rowney's statements could represent "how badly the passage of time can affect your memory".

The inquest had heard Mr Rowney passed through the Royal Way Gate shortly after 08:00 GMT that morning, spent up to a minute and a half there, and returned about 25 minutes later after picking up an officer.

Earlier the inquest heard from Vance Parker, a squadron sergeant major at the time, that the gate was closed at 07:15 GMT.

When he was asked by Mr Moss if the gate could have been open but unmanned, he replied: "The gate was locked. It's very hard to mistake a big metal gate being closed over."

An open verdict into Pte James's death was recorded in the first inquest into her death in December 1995. A second inquest is taking place after High Court judges quashed the findings.

The hearing continues.

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

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

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