Surrey

Deepcut: Staff 'played dangerous game with recruits'

Pte Geoff Gray Image copyright PA
Image caption Pte Geoff Gray was one of four young soldiers to die at Deepcut barracks

Senior staff played "a very dangerous game" with young recruits at Deepcut, an inquest into a teenage soldier's death has heard.

Pte Geoff Gray, 17, was found shot dead at the Surrey army base in September 2001 following a stint on guard duty.

A senior non-commissioned officer was thought to have hidden in the bushes, leading one recruit to believe his life was at risk, the inquest was told.

It also heard a potential intruder was spotted another time, sparking panic.

Pte Gray, who was from Seaham, County Durham, but grew up in Hackney, east London, was one of four young soldiers to die at the Princess Royal Barracks, between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse.

The Army said he had killed himself, but in 2002 a coroner recorded an open verdict at the first inquest into his death.

Former staff sergeant Andrew Rorke, then a private, told the inquest he had been on guard duty in the early hours with two other privates at the sergeants' mess in June 2002, when they heard what they thought was someone hiding in the bushes.

He shouted "halt" twice and ran into the bushes where there was a struggle. Believing his life could be in danger, he then cocked his rifle, the inquest at Woking Coroner's Court heard.

'Mad things happened'

Mr Rorke, who left the Army in 2015, said: "I think it was a senior NCO (non-commissioned officer) playing a very dangerous game with three recruits that night."

Later Mr Rorke agreed with Nicholas Moss, counsel for the MoD, that he had not seen a weapon.

He also said it was possible the person could have been an intruder rather than military personnel.

"Looking back, there were some mad things that happened in the Army.

"That's my opinion on this subject today," he added.

'Grave concerns'

The inquest was also told that someone described as "white and male" came out of the bushes, but it was not clear who he was, despite Mr Rorke giving chase.

Former sergeant Roy Sellstrom, who has also since left the Army, said he walked around the area afterwards and "you could see where someone had been".

He said he also found it was possible to climb over the fence.

He told the hearing: "This is after two young men had been found dead within the grounds at Deepcut. I had grave concerns someone had been assaulted. This wasn't a daily occurrence."

He added: "It just felt it wasn't being dealt with as it should have been dealt with."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Between 1995 and 2002, four young Army recruits died from gunshot wounds

The inquest then heard an account of how an intruder had entered the barracks, sparking panic.

Cpl Steven Barnes, then a private, was patrolling the site with Pte Nick Jordan, on 3 January 2001.

'Shot at by someone'

Pte Jordan went to patrol the perimeter but came "running back" saying he had seen someone trying to climb over the main gate.

The inquest heard both privates were carrying SA80 rifles at the time.

Asked if Pte Jordan reported being shot at, Cpl Barnes also said he could not remember.

John Cooper QC, for the family, said: "You could have a situation at Deepcut where people panic and have access to a gun and here was one of those situations."

Mr Moss asked: "If Pte Jordan had been shot at by someone with a gun with a silencer do you think in 2002 you would have remembered that?"

Cpl Barnes replied: "I think I would have remembered that."

'Missed girlfriend'

The inquest also heard how Pte Gray was "sensitive and far less outgoing" than when he was "one of the lads".

In a statement read to the court, former army recruit and close friend Katie Ward said she and the soldier had both planned to leave the Army in the months before his death.

"He didn't like Deepcut" and missed his girlfriend, family and home comforts, she said.

Ms Ward said "you would not have said Geoff was depressed", and the pair decided to remain in the Army and review the situation a few weeks later.

The inquest, which is taking place without a jury, continues.

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