Fresh inquest will examine evidence of bullying at Deepcut barracks

By agency reporter
September 22, 2017

A coroner has ruled that the fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton in 1995 will examine wider allegations of bullying and abuse at Deepcut barracks.

His Honour Judge Peter Rook QC announced at a pre-inquest review at Woking Coroner’s Court that evidence relating to the alleged bullying of other recruits will be heard as part of the investigation into whether Sean himself suffered abuse in the months before his death.

Many people have stated publicly and to Sean’s family that they believe he endured vicious and prolonged physical and psychological bullying at the barracks.

The Coroner ruled at a previous pre-inquest hearing that the case engages Article Two of the Human Rights Act – meaning there will be a full investigation into Sean’s death and the wider environment in which he lived at Deepcut.

Sean, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest on 9 June 1995 – shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army. He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002. 

His death was followed by an internal Army investigation which his family fear was rushed and inadequate. His family estimate the initial inquest – which took place a month later – lasted less than two hours. It heard evidence from just six people. Sean’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought or given about his experiences at Deepcut. The Coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

Sean's family went on to spend more than 20 years fighting for the thorough inquest they and their son deserved, says the human rights and civil liberties organisation Liberty.

Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015. This was granted in October 2016. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23506)

The application was made possible only after Sean’s late mother Linda Benton used the Human Rights Act to access vast amounts of evidence held by Surrey Police about his death. Linda died in May 2015, having never discovered the truth about her son’s death.

Sean’s sister, Tracy Lewis, said, “It won’t be easy to listen to people give evidence about bullying and abuse – but it’s so important to us to learn the truth about the toxic environment we fear Sean lived in. It’s what our mum fought for 20 years for.

“We’re grateful that the Coroner has decided to allow a wider range of allegations to be heard than just those affecting Sean directly, and are hopeful we will find answers to the questions we’ve been asking for so long.”

Emma Norton, Liberty’s Head of Casework and solicitor to the family, said, “The Coroner’s decision is very welcome and we hope it will enable us to get a clearer picture of the reality of life at Deepcut camp.

“It's enormously important for the family, the public and the British Army that all these matters are properly and independently investigated.”

A further pre-inquest hearing will be held on 17 November 2017 at Surrey Coroner’s Court, Woking. Sean's inquest is due to begin on 24 January 2018 and is expected to last until Easter.

A fresh inquest last year into the death of Private Cheryl James, who also died at Deepcut in 1995, uncovered an appalling culture at the barracks – and led the Ministry of Defence to admit a series of failings. It revealed there was a lack of supervision for trainee soldiers, unsupervised access to alcohol, including for under 18s, a lack of formal welfare policy, no support for young people and a highly sexualised environment. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23131)

Private Sean Benton (20) died on 9 June 1995. Private Cheryl James (18) died on 27 November 1995. Private Geoff Gray (17) died on 17 September 2001. Private James Collinson (17) died on 23 March 2002.

* Liberty https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.