Deepcut inquest: 'Years' to change 'sexualised Army culture'

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

An Army culture that has problems with sexualised behaviour and harassment may take years to change, a senior military witness has told an inquest.

Brigadier John Donnelly said there must be a cultural shift, but change would take "a few years".

The inquest in Woking into the death of a teenage recruit at Deepcut barracks in Surrey has heard she was the subject of unwanted sexual conduct.

Pte Cheryl James was found dead with a bullet wound to the head in 1995.

The 18-year-old from Llangollen, Denbighshire, was one of four recruits to die at the base in seven years.

'Wake-up call'

The inquest heard a survey two years ago of 24,000 service men and women found the majority of respondents thought the Army had an overly sexualised culture.

Brig Donnelly, head of Army Personal Services, said the results had been a "wake-up call".

The survey also suggested serving soldiers did not have faith in their own complaints system.

Questioned by Alison Foster QC, representing the family, Brig Donnelly admitted this "troubled" him.

He said a number of changes had been made throughout the Army as a result of the death of Pte James and three other recruits who died between 1995 and 2002.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The body of Pte Cheryl James was found near the perimeter fence

They included a confidential support line, a female-focused officer attached to each unit to provide advice, and better awareness of how to make complaints.

"We recognise that a number of changes have taken place since 1995," he said.

"We got some things wrong and we took too long to recognise that and I have apologised to Mr James [Pte James's father]."

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

In a wider context, he spoke of other changes including a policy at Deepcut where no trainees were expected to undertake guard duty, as Pte James had been doing at the time of her death.

"We recognise that trainees in large part were not ready to take on guard duty," he said.

Supervising ratios are also now "vastly different" to those when Pte James was there, he said.

The inquest heard that in 1995 there was often just one corporal in charge of 200 trainees - but one warrant officer second-class who was at Deepcut between 1995 and 1998 had seen one non-commissioned officer in charge of 300 to 400 recruits.

'Creepy' soldier

Pte James's boyfriend, Simeon Carr-Minns, told the inquest how she had claimed she had been assaulted by a fellow soldier, known as soldier B.

He said soldier B had propositioned Pte James while she was on restriction of privileges at Leconfield army barracks but she "fobbed him off".

Mr Carr-Minns gave a statement about it to Surrey Police when they investigated Pte James's death in 2002 and 2003.

He told officers a soldier had come on to her "sort of groping maybe or a bit of innuendo".

He also said Pte James felt soldier B was picking on her and she said she found him "creepy".

Mr Carr-Minns said he complained on his girlfriend's behalf to a sergeant the day after she told him.

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 was adjourned until Monday.

Image copyright MOD Police
Image caption Pte Cheryl James died in woods near the gate of Deepcut barracks

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