Sean Benton's case exposes Government plans to abandon human rights as nakedly self-serving

Posted by Emma Norton on 16 June 2017

Today is a momentous day for the family of Private Sean Benton, who died at Deepcut barracks in 1995.

They’ve been waiting 22 years for it to come.

Sean was found with five bullet wounds to his chest, aged just 20. He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002.

After his death, the Army – not the civilian – police investigated and the family fear the investigation was rushed and inadequate. Sean's first inquest recorded a verdict of suicide after less than two hours – having heard evidence from just six people.

His family have been fighting for the thorough inquest they and Sean deserved ever since.

Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015.

And this afternoon a Coroner will make crucial decisions about the scope of this fresh investigation into his death.

Human rights uncovered the truth

The inquest was only made possible after Sean’s late mother Linda Benton used the Human Rights Act to access vast amounts of evidence held by Surrey Police – she followed in the footsteps of Des James who had done the same the year before, on behalf of his daughter, Pte Cheryl James who also died at Deepcut in 1995.

Until 2012, when the evidence was finally obtained, Linda and her family had had little hope of any answers to their questions.

Linda died in May 2015, having never discovered the truth about what happened to her son.

Today’s hearing comes a year after the inquest into the death of Pte Cheryl James which uncovered a toxic, unsafe and sexualised environment at the barracks. Sean's family fear he suffered terribly in that same environment and hope the newly appointed Coroner will help them find out what happened to him. 

It should never have taken 20 years for the truth about this dangerous place to be exposed.

And – in the end – it was human rights laws that forced it into the light.

Stripping soldiers of rights to protect the Ministry of Defence

So in some ways it’s no surprise that the Government is so keen to limit the reach of the human rights and strip our soldiers of their rights.

Their plans to abandon the UK’s human rights obligations during future conflicts are a blatant attempt to protect the Ministry of Defence (MoD) itself from scrutiny.

These plans sit alongside proposals to stop members of the Armed Forces from suing the MoD for negligence – banning civilians, soldiers and their families from seeking truth and justice in an independent court when they or their loved ones suffer injury or death.

These are all measures that would certainly save the MoD a great deal of inconvenience, embarrassment and condemnation – because they would leave matters of potentially huge public importance hidden firmly behind closed doors.

Cases like Sean’s expose these plans for what they are: a nakedly self-serving attempt to shut down any critical examination of the MoD and rob soldiers and their families of open justice.

Members of our Armed Forces risk everything for their country – they deserve the same rights as the rest of us.

Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Head of Legal Casework