New inquest into Deepcut death

By agency reporter
February 1, 2016

A fresh inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James who was found dead at Deepcut Barracks in 1995 will begin at Woking Coroner’s Court today.(1 February)

The inquest will be overseen by Judge Brian Barker.. It is expected to last for at least seven weeks and hear evidence from more than 100 witnesses. Cheryl James was 18 and undergoing initial training at Deepcut in Surrey when she was found dead with a bullet wound to her face on 27 November 1995.

Surrey Police immediately allowed the Army to take over the investigation into Cheryl’s death. No ballistics or forensics tests were conducted. The original inquest, held three weeks after her death, lasted just an hour. It heard from just seven witnesses – key witnesses were not called, medical records were uninspected and important evidence was ignored. The coroner recorded an “open” verdict.

Cheryl James was the second of four young recruits found dead at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002. Sean Benton, 20, died in June 1995, Geoff Gray, 17, in September 2001 and James Collinson, 17, in March 2002. All four died of gunshot wounds, prompting Surrey Police to reinvestigate the deaths in 2002. The investigations concluded that there was no evidence of third-party involvement, but the families were refused access to evidence produced by the investigation.

In 2011, Cheryl’s parents Des and Doreen James approached the civil and human rights organisation Liberty, who threatened Surrey Police with legal action under the Human Rights Act unless they provided access to the evidence surrounding Cheryl’s death. Over the next two years, Surrey Police released over 90 lever-arch files of statements, documents, forensic evidence and photographs.This allowed Liberty to apply for a fresh inquest, which was granted by the High Court in 2014.

Liberty also acts for the families of Sean Benton and James Collinson. Sean Benton’s application for a fresh inquest is lodged with the Attorney General and a decision awaited. Surrey Police has this month finally concluded disclosing to Liberty the entirety of the materials it holds about James Collinson. Des James said: “Twenty years after we lost Cheryl, and following numerous attempts by successive governments to assign the scandal of Deepcut to history, the answers to our many questions may finally be within reach.

“Something went seriously wrong at Deepcut. Each of the four young people who died of gunshot wounds there deserves the dignity of a rigorous, thorough and transparent investigation into their suspicious death. That's not a privilege, it's a right we all have as human beings.

“Only then can recruits and parents of the future feel sure that all that could have been done has been done to prevent re-occurrence. And only then can the British Army regain their proud reputation and finally leave this sad episode behind them. Soundbites such as zero tolerance are simply not enough.”

Emma Norton Liberty lawyer and solicitor for the James family, said: “While Liberty has been working alongside Cheryl’s parents for more than four years, Mr and Mrs James’ fight has lasted more than 20. It was the Human Rights Act – now threatened with repeal by the current Government – that finally got us to this point. “We are determined to uncover how Cheryl came by her death, and are looking forward to the full, thorough investigation she and her parents expect and deserve.”

* Liberty


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