Inquest hopes of Deepcut families

INQUEST CALLS:  Diane Gray, pictured with husband Geoff, who has welcomed Liberty's efforts. Below, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray.
INQUEST CALLS: Diane Gray, pictured with husband Geoff, who has welcomed Liberty's efforts. Below, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray.
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THE family of a soldier shot dead at his Army base has welcomed calls for a fresh inquest into a recruit who died at the same camp in similar suspicious circumstances.

Human rights campaign group Liberty has lodged an application with the Attorney General for consent to apply for a new hearing into the death of 18-year-old Private Cheryl James, who was found dead at the Deepcut Barracks in November 1995.

She was one of four recruits who died at the camp in Surrey from gun shots, sparking allegations of bullying and abuse.

The others included Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Seaham, who was found with two wounds to his head in September 2001.

Pte James and Gray’s deaths followed on from that of Sean Benton, 20, in June 1995, with Private James Collison, 17, found dead six months after Geoff’s death.

A Surrey Police investigation was launched in 2002 after pressure from the families who rejected suggestions their children had committed suicide and called for a public inquiry.

Later, a report by the Adult Learning Inspectorate, commissioned by armed forces minister at the time Adam Ingram, called for substantial reforms in the training of recruits.

A later investigation by deputy high court judge Nicholas Blake QC called for an independent Ombudsman for the armed forces, but rejected the calls for a public inquiry.

It also concluded that Ptes Gray, James and Benton committed suicide.

The original inquest into Cheryl’s death recorded an open verdict, as did Pte Gray’s.

Geoff’s mother Diane, 49, and father Geoff, 50, have always believed their son did not take his own life.

Diane has welcomed the actions of Liberty.

She said: “I think it’s a good she will get a new inquest.

“Some people were interviewed by the police at the time, but not everyone would have been spoken to because you just can’t interview everybody.

“Since then, people might have left the Army who were too terrified to speak out.

“But now, it’s 12 or 13 years on, they might now be brave enough to come forward and speak up, and they’re older.”

In addition to its application for a fresh inquest into Cheryl’s death, Liberty will be doing the same on behalf of the parents of Private Benton.

Its application comes after it used the Human Rights Act to get access to documents about Private James’s death her family have never seen, claiming 44 volumes of statements, documents, notes and photographs containing evidence that has never before been properly examined and suggesting witnesses may have lied.

A fresh inquest can be ordered if there is evidence of fraud, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry or new evidence.

If the Attorney General gives his consent, the matter will be referred to the High Court for consideration.

The organisation’s officer Emma Norton said: “The human rights of our troops are worthy of exactly the same protection as everyone else – until what happened to these young people at Deepcut is competently, calmly and independently investigated, justice will not be done.”

Pte James’s parents Des and Doreen said the fresh evidence is “both serious and extremely worrying” adding: “No family should ever have to go through what we’ve experienced, and the fact there still has never been any meaningful inquiry into the four deaths at Deepcut remains a stain on the integrity of everyone involved.

“All four were placed in the care of the state and all four were badly let down.”