Surrey

Cheryl James Deepcut death scene: Evidence 'could have been disturbed'

Pte Cheryl James Image copyright Cheryl James's family
Image caption Pte Cheryl James was found dead at Deepcut barracks in 1995

A military police officer has admitted there were flaws in the immediate investigation into the death of a teenage soldier at Deepcut barracks.

Pte Cheryl James was found dead from a bullet wound to her head at the Surrey barracks in 1995.

Michael Harrison said he could not be certain forensic evidence had not been disturbed before he arrived.

But he also told the inquest into her death nothing he saw suggested anything other than suicide.

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

Mr Harrison said when he arrived at the scene near the Royal Gate, where her body had been discovered less than an hour before, to find civilian police, officers and guards were already there and a cordon had been put in place.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Cheryl James's body was found near the road leading in to Deepcut barracks

He told Surrey's Coroner's Court in Woking her death had already been deemed non-suspicious and he volunteered to investigate on behalf of the coroner's office.

Alison Foster QC, representing the James family, said the assumption her death was suicide "much diminished" his investigation and meant it was "not very useful".

She also suggested a "forensic pathway" to the scene had not been secured and there were a number of opportunities when the scene could have been disturbed.

Ms Foster asked him: "Do you accept that you should have ensured that there was a full forensic investigation?"

"Yes," he replied.

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

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

Mr Harrison, who was a sergeant in the special investigation branch of the Royal Military Police, told the inquest that when he arrived at the scene a decision had been made that a full forensic investigation was not needed.

Pte James' body was discovered under a large tree adjacent to a grass verge, near the road leading into the barracks via Royal Way gate, and Mr Harrison said there had been no attempt to conceal it.

Her rifle was next to the body with its sling and magazine attached, he said.

The weapon was live and lay about 20cm (8in) from her body with the firing lever set to single shot rather than automatic.

No bullet cartridge was initially found but it became clear there were eight rounds in the magazine, one in the chamber, and one 5.56mm round missing.

"They are issued 10 rounds so there had to be a cartridge spent somewhere... but it was only found once Cheryl was moved," said Mr Harrison.

"It was obvious to me, and no doubt, that the cartridge was fired by that rifle."

The first inquest into Pte James's death in December 1995 recorded an open verdict. This second inquest was ordered after High Court judges quashed the original findings.

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