Pte Cheryl James inquest: Coroner retires to consider verdict

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

The coroner at the inquest into the death of a soldier found shot at Deepcut barracks in Surrey has retired to consider his verdict.

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

The inquest began in February and has heard from more than 100 witnesses. Closing submissions were presented earlier.

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

Alison Foster QC, representing Pte James' family, said there was "no reliable foundation" for a finding that the wound was self-inflicted and said they were reconciled to "the possibility of an open conclusion".

Ms Foster told the court that "we cannot know the precise circumstances in which Ms James met her death."

'Soot residue'

She said there was enough evidence to conclude Pte James was killed by a rifle shot from distance.

It is open to the coroner, Ms Foster added, to find that Pte James was "killed by a non contact gunshot wound to the head by an unknown third party."

The evidence cited to support this was that of Prof Derrick Pounder, who said Pte James must have been shot from distance because there was no soot residue on her face and hand.

John Beggs QC, representing Surrey Police, told the court the "appropriate" conclusion would be suicide based on self-infliction and intention.

He said there were limitations of evidence, particularly of a forensic nature, but these should not prevent the coroner from seeing the "full evidential picture".

Later, he added there was "not one scintilla, not one shred of evidence, to indicate third party involvement at all."

Nicholas Moss, representing the Ministry of Defence, said there was "plainly" sufficient evidence to suggest that Ms James shot herself.

He told the court it was "wholly fanciful" to suggest someone would have had the time or ability to kill Pte James and then stage the scene to make it appear like suicide.

Mr Moss described Prof Pounder as an "unsatisfactory witness" who had displayed "a lack of care and a lack of rigour".

All evidence has now been taken by the coroner in Woking.

The inquest has taken evidence from 109 people including nine expert witnesses.

Coroner Brian Barker QC is expected to give his conclusions on 18 May.

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

The Deepcut Four

  • 20-year-old Pte Sean Benton, from Hastings, was the first to be found dead in June 1995

  • 18-year-old Pte Cheryl James, from Llangollen was found with a bullet wound to her forehead in November 1995

  • 17-year-old Pte Geoff Gray, from Seaham, was found with two gunshot wounds to his head in 2001

  • 17-year-old Pte James Collinson, from Perth, was found with a single gunshot wound through his chin while on guard duty in 2002

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

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