Coroner to rule on gunshot death of Deepcut soldier Cheryl James
A two-decade fight for justice will finally come to an end for the family of Private Cheryl James on Friday when a coroner delivers the long-awaited ruling into how she died at Deepcut Army barracks.
Pte James, 18, was found with a bullet wound to her head on November 27 1995 while she was undergoing initial training at the Surrey base.
She was one of four soldiers who died there between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse. Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray, originally from Seaham, also died from gunshot wounds.
Now, after a three-month inquest at Surrey Coroner's Court in Woking that heard evidence from 109 witnesses, her parents Des and Doreen James hope that coroner Brian Barker QC will give them the answers they have sought for more than 20 years.
The Army has maintained Pte James took her own life but her parents said there had not been a thorough investigation, arguing that the culture of the camp was "out of control" and contributed to her death and those of the three other young recruits.
Ahead of the inquest Mr James said: "The Deepcut situation is the tip of the iceberg. We have got to get to the bottom of what happened. I want justice for all four of them."
The family requested the scope of the new inquest be widened to take account of new evidence which they believe could have shed new light on Pte James' state of mind.
Mr Barker's conclusions could pave the way for families of the others who died to initiate their own legal actions, with the parents of Pte Gray telling the Sunderland Echo they plan to apply for his inquest verdict to be overturned.
The inquest into the death of Pte James, from Llangollen, north Wales, examined evidence suggesting she may have been sexually exploited by senior ranks shortly before she died, including a claim she was forced by a superior to have sex with another soldier.
A number of witnesses came forward with allegations of widespread sexual exploitation at Deepcut, but Mr Barker decided he could not consider such claims as the inquest was not a public inquiry.
This week MP Madeleine Moon, a member of the Commons Defence Select committee, told the BBC she wanted to know what happened to abuse claims made by other soldiers, calling for the Defence Secretary to ask the Army and Surrey Police about other soldiers accused by recruits of rape, sexual assaults and bullying at the base.
Pte James' family also sought to challenge an as sumption of suicide by Surrey Police during their 2002 investigation into her death, and Alison Foster QC, representing them, told the inquest there was "distinguished pathological evidence" that the shot that killed her may not have been self-inflicted.
Forensic evidence, she suggested, meant that involvement of a third party was "more than merely speculative", but a barrister for Surrey Police said that was "speculative in the extreme".
The inquest also exposed flaws in the investigations into Pte James' death by both the Army and Surrey Police - both of which apologised to the family during the hearing.
The James family sat with dignity through more than 30 days of evidence in which their daughter was described as a "fun-loving" and "bubbly" girl, but also one who was sexually adventurous, deeply troubled and who often spoke of death as being the only way out of the Army and Deepcut barracks.
Pte James was found dead in a copse at around 8.30am on November 27 1995, a rifle and spent cartridge by her side, not far from the Royal Way Gate where she had been on lone guard duty.
On Friday Mr Barker will give his findings as to how and why her life ended there - and the answers to her family's many questions.
The hearing begins at 11am.