Surrey

Cheryl James: Deepcut soldier's family vow to fight on

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

The family of army recruit Cheryl James, whose death at Deepcut barracks was ruled as suicide, are to continue to fight for justice.

Pte James, 18, died from a gunshot wound to the head in 1995 - which on Friday, coroner Brian Barker QC concluded was self-inflicted.

But, her father Des said he did not think "it's the end of the road", calling for a public inquiry.

The head of the Army has now apologised "unreservedly" to Mr and Mrs James.

Pte James, from Llangollen in Denbighshire, was one of four recruits to die at Deepcut in seven years.

In delivering his conclusion at Woking Coroner's Court after three months of hearing, Mr Barker said her wound was "self-inflicted" and the soldier had fired the gun at the Surrey base intentionally.

Pte James, from north Wales, had been carrying out lone guard duty at the barracks when she was found dead, something the coroner said was contrary to army policy.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Cheryl James's parents Des and Dorees are at Woking Coroner's Court to her the coroner deliver his findings

But Mr James said he felt there had been a "gaping hole" in the evidence and the family was "deeply saddened" by the coroner's conclusion - prompting his call for a public inquiry into the culture of life on the barracks.

He said he felt his daughter would still be alive had he not "delivered her to that awful place" where she was forced to live in a "deeply toxic environment".

'Disappointment'

Of the findings, Mr James said: "I think the most galling thing was using the similar analogy to the Board of Inquiry the MoD conducted in January 1996 - 'she must have loaded the gun, must have turned the gun, must have fired the gun'.

"Well, was there a camera on the tree or something? That was the disappointment, and I think that the evidence I heard every single day didn't get me to that point.

"I could see it was headed for an open verdict and that was what we expected, and then that last minute..."

Mr James felt his daughter should have been given the benefit of the doubt "and she deserved [that] more than any of the witnesses".

General Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, backed Mr James's call for a public inquiry, saying it was the "only practical and reasonable response" to the inquest.

"I think people have a right to know," he told the BBC's Newsnight.

"If there are individuals who went through training at Deepcut or indeed elsewhere and believe that they suffered bullying or sexual harassment, that's not been investigated, they should complain."

The coroner said Pte James had a "short, shining life" and had left a legacy of a complete re-evaluation of how the army trains its soldiers.

The risk of self-harm to trainees during lone armed guard duty had not been adequately recognised, nor had adequate steps been taken to reduce the risk, he added.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph Gen Sir Nick Carter, head of the British Army, said the service would be "sure to learn" from the inquest.

"I deeply regret Cheryl's tragic death and I want to apologise unreservedly to Mr and Mrs James for the duty of care failings at Deepcut Barracks in 1995.

"Cheryl's death has taught us some hard lessons and will serve as a constant reminder for me and for all of those who both lead and serve in the Army of the importance of ensuring all of our people are valued and have the opportunity to flourish."

Mr Barker said it was regrettable there had not been a more thorough investigation at the time of Pte James's death, adding the inquest had been "a long and a difficult exercise".

The inquest, which is the second into Pte James's death, began in February and heard from more than 100 witnesses.

A first inquest into Pte James's death in December 1995 recorded an open verdict which was quashed by the High Court.


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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