Surrey

Cheryl James Deepcut death: Police inspector apologises to family

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

An ex-police inspector has apologised to the family of a soldier found dead from a bullet wound to her head at Deepcut barracks in Surrey in 1995.

Surrey Police decided there were "no suspicious circumstances" surrounding the death of Pte Cheryl James within two hours of arriving at the scene.

Michael Day told an inquest in Woking he would do things differently now.

The inquest heard the force had apologised to the family and Mr Day said: "I would add my apology to that."

Referring to actions on the day of the death, he said: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

"If I had to make that decision again I would have without a doubt taken a different course of action."

'Troubled' letters

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

Mr Day arrived at the scene of her death on 27 November at 09:04 GMT and handed the investigation over to the coroner and military at 11:12, without inspecting the body or weapon himself.

Apologising to Pte James's family for the limited police investigation, he said there were no suspicious circumstances "in terms of the position of the body and things around it".

He said letters found in her quarters "suggested that she was troubled over things" but admitted there was never a suggestion of any suicide note.

Image copyright MOD Police
Image caption The body of Pte Cheryl James was found in woods near the gate of Deepcut barracks

Alison Foster QC, representing the James family, accused Mr Day of basing his decision on a "set of assumptions" without a proper investigation of the scene.

She told Woking Coroner's Court no fingerprint evidence had been taken from the gun, there had been no swabs of Pte James's hands or face, and no fingertip search conducted of the area around the body before it was moved.

There was also no ballistics testing of any cartridge case, she said.

"You couldn't be sure that the gun beside Cheryl fired the fatal bullet," she told Mr Day.

The former police inspector replied he was satisfied "that was the weapon that had been involved".

"From what I knew or read there was a bullet missing from the gun," he said, adding that he did not examine the body, weapon or scene himself and had relied on information from scenes-of-crime experts and his CID officer.

Ms Foster continued: "Without any investigation or independence of mind you were prepared to take from military personnel at the scene... you were prepared to take their conclusions and assumptions."

"Yes I did take their conclusions," Mr Day 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

Paul Davidson, a former Ministry of Defence police officer, told the inquest there was no cordon and "no control" around the body when he attended the scene.

"Everyone was just walking around," he said.

Neil Thomson, a former detective with Camberley CID, said a number of letters of a "sexual nature" were found in Pte James's locker, which her family were not told about at the time.

"Clearly we were there to see if there was any note left," he added.

Referring to the letters, Mr Thomson said: "It was felt that was not something the family should be subjected to at this particular time."

The inquest also heard from Michael Burrows, a former armourer at Deepcut, who said he inspected the gun at the scene and made it safe.

"The weapon was lying on the ground next to the body," he said.

"One of her hands was partially on the weapon."

He added the position of the rifle's hammer was "consistent" with it having been discharged, but it did not mean it had definitely been fired.

The rifle was put back into service months after Pte James's death, he said.

The inquest was adjourned until Thursday.

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