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Deaths of Army recruits at Deepcut Barracks

John Wilson

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Picture the scene at Deepcut British Army training barracks in the 1990's. You are a recruit in the British army, subjected to constant bullying. There's even alledged rapes going on. You probably decide to leave, BUT one of your superior officers has a gun to your head, and tells you that if you that if you try and dishonour the army with your complaints, they will shoot you.

The next day your body is recovered within the barracks, showing multiple close-up bullet wounds - one single shot to the head, plus multiple wounds from more distant gunfire.

The internal army investigation closes with a verdict of suicide. Of course, the Ministry of Defence supports the ruling, and so does the British Government.






Who were the people who died?

They were all new recruits, training at the Royal Logistics Corps' primary training base at the Princess Royal Barracks at Deepcut.

Private Sean Benton, 20, was hit by one bullet at close range and another four apparently fired from a distance, in June 1995.

Cheryl James, 18, died in November 1995 from a single bullet to the head.

Private Geoff Gray, 17, was hit by two bullets to the head. Another three believed to have been fired at the same time were not found.

James Collinson was killed by a single shot up through the chin in March 2002. He was 17.

Are there others?

None that are known about, although there was an unrelated death of a another Deepcut recruit. But statistics point to high levels of deaths among young army recruits.

MoD figures showed there were 1,748 non-combat deaths of army personnel in or around military property from 1990 to 2002, and 188 deaths due to firearms between January 1990 and July 2002.

Families of soldiers elsewhere who died in non-combat situations now want public inquiries, too.

What do the various parties say?

The families of all four victims are not convinced that their sons and daughters killed themselves.

They want an independent inquiry held in public to ascertain all the facts and - if the claims are true - to establish what life was like for them at the barracks that might have driven them to such desperate measures.

A number of MPs - about a quarter of the Commons - have backed their calls.

The government refused a public inquiry while the police investigation was going on, but has not committed itself on what it will do now that the police probe is complete.

Police delayed publishing their report while they held talks with an independent investigator appointed by the bereaved families.

Who has investigated it?

The Army held internal inquiries into the deaths of Privates Benton and James.

It will hold similar investigations on Privates Gray and Collinson once it receives Surrey police report.

The coroner has held inquests into the first three, recording a verdict of suicide on Private Benton and open verdicts on Privates James and Gray. He will conduct an inquest into Private Collinson's death after he receives the Surrey police report.

He must decide whether to make an application to the High Court to hold new inquests on the other three.

Why do the families want another inquiry?

They were unhappy with the army inquiry and want an independent investigation.

They say potentially vital evidence went missing and some claim police suspect some soldiers were not as forthcoming as they might be.

Each wants to know:

  • Was it murder - and if so, why?

  • What could have been done to prevent it?

  • If it was suicide, how could it happen?

They want transparency and reassurance that there has been no cover-up, which they believe can come only from an independent public investigation.

So there have been conspiracy theories?

There have certainly been plenty of accusations of a cover-up, with most of the investigations away from public scrutiny.

There were claims that some of Private James' letters were withheld from her inquest. The Army says they were shown to the coroner, but he denies this.

Private Collinson's parents feared their home was bugged, but police found nothing.

However, the government did allow independent investigator Frank Swann access to the Deepcut barracks.

What are the remaining options?

The police report will go to Surrey coroner Michael Burgess, who will decide whether there is sufficient new evidence to justify new inquests on the first three deaths.

He has yet to hold an inquest on Private Collinson.

Police identified in their report a number of areas of risk to potentially vulnerable recruits and have passed their recommendations to the Army. The Army will consider the comments before taking any further action but points out it is already acting on an internal report on all its recruit-training bases, acknowledging the need for more instructors to monitor new recruits and improving welfare standards.

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No John. I think it is a paralysed nerve. Close to the bone.

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