Surrey

Deepcut: Father says Pte Geoff Gray 'tragically let down'

Pte Geoff Gray Image copyright PA
Image caption Pte Geoff Gray was found with two gunshot wounds to his head

The father of a soldier found shot dead at Deepcut barracks has spoken of how the "place where he should have been safe" had "let him down so tragically".

Pte Geoff Gray, 17, was found with two gunshot wounds to his head on 17 September 2001 after he had been on guard duty at the Surrey base.

His father, also called Geoff, told the opening of a fresh inquest that his son had been "living the dream".

He had "no depression" or money or girl troubles, Woking Coroner's Court heard.

The hearing was told that fellow soldiers had said to Mr Gray at the funeral of his son: "Don't let this lie, it could be one of us next."

Mr Gray recalled how one or two of them said "they had passed the spot where [his son] was eventually found and he was not there".

He said the recruits looked "uncomfortable" and appeared unable to speak freely as there "always seemed to be an officer within earshot".

Mr Gray told the inquest that after basic training at Pirbright Camp, his son was "bursting with pride" at his passing out parade before he moved to Deepcut.

He said the last time he saw his son was at home about two weeks before his death, and that Pte Gray had just passed his driving test.

"The next time I saw him was on a marble slab and I was asking him 'who's given you the black eye, bonny lad?"'

He told the hearing that "a numbness descended on our family" after his death.

A statement read on behalf of Pte Gray's mother Diane said: "My son blossomed into a man I was proud of. I feel I have been robbed of seeing our son grow up.

"Geoff signed up to serve our country. It's about time our country served him and let the truth be told."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Four young soldiers died at Deepcut barracks between 1995 and 2002

Claudia Webb, an ex-girlfriend who remained a close friend of Pte Gray, told the coroner's court they regularly talked on the phone and by text, and she could only count on one hand the number of times she had seen him in a bad mood.

"On one occasion he had got into trouble for rubbing his nose during a parade which left him irritated.

"If he had been bullied, he would have told me," she said.

Asked about an email with handwritten drawings and notes on it about a gun two years before the soldier died, Ms Webb said: "He wasn't a violent person."

Recalling the day before he died, she told the inquest she had been working when she received a text from Pte Gray which included a swear word.

"He didn't normally swear at me by text message or in person," she said.

The inquest heard he had been due to go on guard duty that night.

Ms Webb said he had been "crabby" by text but not on the phone, and when she spoke to him "he was in a good mood".

In 2002, a coroner recorded an open verdict in the first inquest into the death of Pte Gray, from Seaham, County Durham, but who lived in Hackney, London, from the age of five,

The new inquest is happening because Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC said he was satisfied fresh evidence had come to light.

Opening the hearing, coroner Peter Rook QC said: "The relevant facts will be investigated again. I stress this will be a full, thorough and fresh investigation."

The inquest, which does not have a jury, is expected to hear from 91 witnesses and to last until early May.

Pte Gray was one of four young soldiers to die at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut, between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse.

Privates Sean Benton, 20, Cheryl James, 18, and James Collinson, 17, also died from gunshot wounds at the base.

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