Deepcut deaths: Fresh inquest into death of Private Sean Benton begins

By agency reporter
January 25, 2018

A fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton who was found dead at Deepcut barracks in 1995   began at Woking Coroner’s Court  on 24 January 2018.

The inquest is expected to last at least two months and hear from around 150 witnesses.

The Coroner ruled at a pre-inquest hearing that the case engages Article 2 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.

As part of this, the inquest will examine evidence relating to the alleged bullying of other recruits, as well as investigating whether Sean himself suffered abuse in the months before his death.

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 a brief military police investigation which his family fear was rushed and deeply inadequate. They went on to spend more than 20 years fighting for the thorough inquest they and their son deserved.

Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, who are represented by the civil and hunan rights organisation Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015. This was granted in October 2016.

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 Benton died in May 2015, having never discovered the truth about what happened to Sean.

Sean Benton's sister, Tracy Lewis, said, “It’s a relief after so many years to finally have the opportunity to find out what happened to my brother – but I am very sad and angry that both my parents and my younger brother died without learning the truth.

“My family suffered unforgivable failures by the military police, by the first coroner and by Surrey Police. My mum then had to fight for years and years to access basic information about Sean’s death so we could get the thorough inquest we should have had right at the start. If the Army, the first coroner and Surrey Police had done their jobs 23 years ago and helped us find the answers every grieving family seeks, we would all have been spared a huge amount of pain.”

Emma Norton, Head of Legal Casework at Liberty and solicitor for Sean Benton's family, said, “It should be a source of deep shame for the Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police that they put so much energy into keeping the most basic facts about Sean’s death behind closed doors for so long. It is only thanks to the determination of Sean’s late mum Linda – and the threat of legal action under human rights laws – that we are here today.

“The men and women who serve in the Armed Forces deserve the same rights, care and support as the rest of us. This inquest isn’t just about finding out what happened to Sean – it’s about making sure the Army is held accountable and learns lessons, so young soldiers and their families are never put through this again.”

Sean’s death was immediately investigated by the Army’s own police force, the Royal Military Police, rather than by civilian police.

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. 

As with the other Deepcut deaths, a criminal investigation carried out by Surrey Police in 2002 and 2003 concluded there was no evidence of third-party involvement. The families were told very little about what had happened and were not given access to the evidence uncovered by police.

In 2012, Liberty, acting on behalf of  Benton, used the Human Rights Act to insist Surrey Police give her access to all evidence held by the force about her son and his death so they could apply for a fresh inquest. Surrey Police agreed to disclose all relevant materials – a process that finally finished in 2015.

Liberty also represents the family of Cheryl James, who died at Deepcut on 27 November 1995. A fresh inquest into her death in 2016 revealed life at the barracks to be chaotic and dangerous for the young trainees, who had unrestricted access to alcohol, minimal supervision and virtually no welfare support.

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.