Deepcut death soldier Pte Cheryl James 'looked upset'

Pte Cheryl James
Image caption Pte Cheryl James was found dead with a bullet wound to the head

A young soldier who was found dead at Deepcut barracks looked "upset" on the day she died, an inquest has heard.

Cpl Ian Wilkinson was one of the last people to see Pte Cheryl James alive in November 1995.

He told the hearing the 18-year-old from Llangollen, Denbighshire, who was in uniform and holding a rifle "looked down in the dumps".

Pte James stopped him at the gates to the Surrey barracks for an identity check as he drove to work.

She was later found dead with a bullet wound to the head - one of four recruits to die at the base in seven years.

On Tuesday, the inquest heard civilian driver John Rowney was at the gate at 08:00 that day.

'Nothing untoward'

He had exchanged a joke with Pte James and found her to be "bubbly" and "happy". But, just 25 minutes later he returned to the gate to be told a soldier had been shot.

Cpl Wilkinson had arrived at the gate between 08:15 GMT and 08:30 GMT on 27 November, and noted Pte James's demeanour was very different.

"She looked upset, did not seem altogether with it. She seemed miserable," he told the hearing.

"I said something to the effect of 'Cheer up, it might never happen'."

The inquest heard Cpl Wilkinson was not officially spoken to about the incident until 2003.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Police investigated the Deepcut deaths in 2002

He said he had never concealed the fact he may have been the last person to see the soldier alive but had not been approached for a statement before that.

Cpl Wilkinson also told the inquest he could not remember the standing orders on how to hold weapons and if they should have been loaded - but he would have noticed anything untoward.

A colleague, Sgt Phil Wood, arrived on foot a short time after him and found the gate unmanned and unguarded.

He told the inquest earlier it was "unusual" for the gate to be unmanned, because someone was normally there to check passes.

'Sheepish civilian'

"From what I could see, [the gate] was slightly ajar. The barrier was up," he said.

He said he telephoned the guard room about it and was told they were dealing with it.

The inquest heard Maj Peter Harris cycled to work and arrived at the base between 08:10 GMT and 08:15 GMT, when he was also checked by Pte James.

But Maj Harris said while Pte James was properly dressed for duty and had a weapon strapped across her, there was a "sheepish" young civilian man standing behind her.

He said he could not talk about the condition of the weapon and whether it was loaded because he did not see it.

But he said the man should not have been there.

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

He said: "I ascertained that he should not have been there and asked him, was he chatting her up?

"He was in civilian clothes. It was just unusual. He should not have been there. He said he was just passing, which I took as a bit of a limp excuse."

Maj Harris said he told the man - who the inquest then heard was actually Pte Paul Wilkinson, one of Pte James's boyfriends - that he should not be there, he would be interfering with Pte James's duties and he should leave. The man agreed that he would leave.

He said he did not look back to see if the man was leaving but having "given him a lawful command he should do as he was told".

'Challenging environment'

Alison Foster, for the James family, asked Maj Harris whether it was possible a sentry on guard duty would have a magazine strapped to their weapon.

Maj Harris replied: "It is possible."

Captain Charles Whatoff told the inquest the environment at Deepcut was "challenging".

An adjutant to the commanding officer at Deepcut in 1995, he said there was a welfare register for soldiers who might have been having difficulties and Pte James was not on it.

He said recruits who had done their basic training at Pirbright were coming through at "quite a rate" and this was putting considerable strain on staff and resources.

Captain Whatoff said effort was being put in to manage the soldiers with the aim of seeing how people who were finding the time difficult could be helped.

He said: "I do recall that Cheryl was not on the list, was not the focus. This was a great shock to everyone."

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday.

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