Surrey

New Deepcut inquest to be held into death of Cheryl James

  • 18 July 2014
  • From the section Surrey

A new inquest has been ordered into the death of soldier Pte Cheryl James at Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

The 18-year-old from Denbighshire died in November 1995. The High Court ordered a fresh inquest after a challenge by her family.

She was one of four soldiers who died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002, sparking allegations of bullying and abuse.

An inquest held soon after Pte James's death recorded an open verdict.

Pte James, who grew up in Llangollen, died from a single bullet wound. Her parents believe she had suffered sexual harassment and bullying.

Pte Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found dead with bullet wounds at the barracks in June 1995, months before Pte James's death.

In September 2001, 17-year-old Pte Geoff Gray, from Seaham, Co Durham, was found with two bullet wounds to his head, and six months later, Pte James Collinson, from Perth, also 17, was found with a single bullet wound upwards through his chin.

Mr Justice Mitting and Judge Peter Thornton QC agreed that there was "an insufficiency of inquiry" at the 1995 inquest and quashed the open verdict recorded at the inquest into Pte James's death.

Judge Thornton said "the discovery of new facts or evidence" made "a fresh investigation including a fresh inquest necessary or desirable in the interests of justice".

'Some answers'

Pte James was undergoing initial training at Deepcut when she was found dead with a bullet wound between her right eye and the bridge of her nose.

Her parents Des and Doreen James, who live in Llanymynech, Powys, applied through human rights campaign group Liberty for a new inquest after the Human Rights Act was used to secure access to documents held by the authorities about the teenager's death.

Mr and Mrs James said they were "delighted" to have a fresh inquest but "a meaningful inquiry into Cheryl's death is almost 20 years late".

In a statement, they said: "When young people die in violent circumstances, a rigorous and transparent investigation should be automatic.

Des James, pictured, and his wife Doreen said a meaningful inquiry into their daughter's death was almost 20 years late

"Something went dreadfully wrong at Deepcut yet until now no-one has bothered to look at how and why our daughter died."

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, Mrs James said: "We're absolutely over the moon. It's been a long 20 years.

"It's dreadful to lose a child but when you really haven't had the opportunity to find out what happened, you never can get closure.

"I hope for all the other families that have lost their children that this will lead to other investigations."

Liberty solicitor Emma Norton, who represented Mr and Mrs James, said the family had "refused to let her death be swept under the carpet".

A Surrey Police investigation was launched into the deaths in 2002, following pressure from the families who rejected suggestions the soldiers had committed suicide and called for a public inquiry.

Later, a report by the Adult Learning Inspectorate, commissioned by the armed forces minister, called for substantial reforms in the training of new recruits.

A later investigation by deputy high court judge Nicholas Blake QC called for an independent ombudsman for the armed forces, but rejected the families' calls for a public inquiry.

It also concluded that Ptes Gray, James and Benton had committed suicide.

Judge Thornton said Surrey Police at first refused full disclosure of the reinvestigation report to Pte James's family, but handed over 44 lever arch files of documents after being threatened with legal action.

The force said it had now voluntarily provided all relevant material to the family - since being asked to early in 2012 - and what had been disclosed "affords fresh grounds for an inquest".

The documents handed over included "important material relating to ballistics, the noise of the gunshot, bullet fragments, the finding of the body, the credibility of some witnesses, and further witnesses".

'Matter for the coroner'

A police statement said the force had also received similar requests for disclosure from the representatives of the families of the other soldiers who died.

It said: "Our thoughts remain with the family of Cheryl James at this time and the force will continue to work with all interested parties throughout the inquest process.

"A dedicated team of officers are currently working towards the new inquest and the disclosure process to families through their legal teams as soon as possible."

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Pte Cheryl James.

"The inquest will now be a matter for the coroner, but we will of course continue to co-operate with and provide support to the coroner where needed."

The new investigation is to be carried out by the current senior coroner for the Surrey area, who did not conduct the original inquest, or by a coroner to be agreed by the senior coroner, the Chief Coroner and Judge Thornton.

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