The family of a Seaham-born army recruit shot dead at his barracks are hoping a fresh inquest will be launched after a judge has given the go-ahead for a new probe into another recruit’s death.
Senior judge Mr Justice Collins announced there would be a fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton, from Hastings, East Sussex, who was found with five bullet wounds to his chest at Deepcut Barracks in June 1995 while undergoing training at the Surrey base.
Now the parents of Pte Geoff Gray, who was born in Seaham, hope it will help lead to a new inquest into their son’s death. The 17-year-old was found with two gunshot wounds to his head in 2001 while on guard duty at the barracks.
Geoff’s dad Geoff tweeted: “Congratulations on Sean Benton fresh inquest. Geoff Gray application next.”
The new hearing was made possible by Private Benton’s mother Linda who, before her death last year, used the Human Rights Act to access evidence held by Surrey Police.
The original inquest, which the 20-year-old’s family said took less than two hours and heard evidence from six people, recorded a verdict of suicide, and a criminal investigation seven years later found no evidence of third party involvement.
Pte Benton’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought or given about his experiences at Deepcut.
The family, who are represented by human rights organisation Liberty, believe he was subjected to severe bullying.
Mr Justice Collins said that a considerable amount of fresh evidence had come to light which cast “some doubt” on the correctness of the original finding and there was also material which concerned the care which was afforded to Private Benton by the Army at the relevant time.
Mrs Lewis said: “Our family had just 20 years with Sean. It has taken us another 21 to secure the thorough, independent inquiry we should have seen immediately after his death. For that reason, our parents are not here with us to see this day.
“For two decades, our family has been tormented by questions about what Sean went through at Deepcut. If his death had been properly investigated in 1995, we would have been spared years of uncertainty and pain.
“It should be a source of huge shame to the Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police that our mother had to fight for so long - far longer than she should have had to - to force the authorities to answer basic questions. We look forward to finally discovering the truth.”
Emma Norton, legal director of rights organisation Liberty and solicitor for Mr Benton’s family, said: “Just as with the Hillsborough families, the parents of Cheryl James and so many others, the Bentons’ perfectly reasonable questions about their son’s death were met with decades of stonewalling, silence and suspicion.
“Just as in those cases, it was only the Human Rights Act - the law our Government remains determined to repeal - that enabled the family to access information to which they had every right.
“Sean Benton was young and vulnerable. He deserved so much better. We are hopeful his family can now finally have their questions answered and that lessons are learnt so young recruits like Sean are better protected in future.”
A date for the fresh inquest has yet to be set.
Pte Benton was the first of four young soldiers to die at the barracks between 1995 and 2002.
Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, North Wales, shot herself in November 1995, according to a second inquest into her death which concluded in June.
And Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth, was found dead with a single gunshot wound through his chin on March 23 2002.