Deepcut inquest: Top officer denies being apologist for 'violent regime' at barracks

A senior army officer has denied being an apologist for a regime of "violence, threats and intimidation" at Deepcut barracks and pushing for a verdict of suicide in the inquest into the death of a young soldier.

Wednesday, 27th February 2019, 2:35 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th February 2019, 2:43 pm
Pte Gray suffered two gunshot wounds to his head on September 17, 2001.

Brigadier Christopher Coles told the inquest of Private Geoff Gray, 17, who suffered two gunshot wounds to his head on September 17, 2001 at the Surrey base: "I'm not pushing for any verdict in particular, it's not my business."

John Cooper QC, for the family of Pte Gray, told Woking Coroner's Court another recruit or recruits may have shot the teenager, from Seaham, while he performed guard duty.

The inquest is expected to last until early May.

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Mr Cooper said on Wednesday: "We suggest Brigadier Coles is an apologist for what happened at Deepcut and his evidence is to assist the MoD (Ministry of Defence) to evade any questions concerning violence, threats or intimidation."

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He told Brigadier Coles, who is the head of the Army services personnel group: "Let me be blunt, so there's no misunderstanding. I'm suggesting that your statement is designed to carry on and propagate the suicide scenario.

"You have been assuming suicide and continue to assume suicide when there's a wealth of material indicating that Deepcut was a very violent regime at the time Geoff died."

Mr Cooper did not say Pte Gray was being bullied by officers or peers but suggested that a culture of violence at the base may have made it more likely Pte Gray would have been attacked by a third party.

In 2002, a coroner recorded an open verdict in the first inquest into the death of Pte Gray.

The new inquest is happening because Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC said he was satisfied fresh evidence had come to light.

Pte Gray was one of four young soldiers to die at the Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut, between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse.

Privates Sean Benton, 20, Cheryl James, 18, and James Collinson, 17, also died from gunshot wounds at the base.

Surrey Police said officers launched a new criminal investigation into allegations including assault and misconduct in public office at the barracks after the conclusion of Pte Benton's inquest last year.

The inquest, which does not have a jury, is expected to hear from 91 witnesses and is listed to last until early May.