Cheryl James - crucial decisions expected at pre-inquest review

19 May 2015

Today at Woking Coroner’s Court, critical decisions are expected to be made about the forthcoming inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James – who died at Deepcut Barracks in 1995. 

The Coroner will rule on Surrey Police’s request that Pte James’ inquest should be heard alongside inquests into the deaths of the other three young soldiers who died there. However fresh inquests have yet to be ordered into the deaths of Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray. This would mean Cheryl’s inquest would be delayed, probably by years.

The third in a series of pre-inquest reviews, it is also expected to decide the date and scope of the inquest, disclosure, whether there will be a jury and also whether there will be an exhumation of the body.

Cheryl, 18, was undergoing initial training at Deepcut Barracks in 1995 when she was found dead with a bullet wound between her right eye and the bridge of her nose. Surrey Police immediately handed the matter over to the Army. From the outset her death was treated as suicide, despite previous descriptions of her as “bubbly” and “happy”.  The original inquest lasted just an hour – key witnesses weren’t called, medical records went uninspected and important evidence was ignored. An “open” verdict was recorded.

Liberty, which represents Cheryl’s parents Des and Doreen James, applied for a new inquest after using the Human Rights Act to secure access to documents held by the authorities about the teenager’s death.

Emma Norton, lawyer for Liberty and representing the family, said:

“Cheryl's family have had to fight every step of the way for answers about their daughter’s death – and thanks to the Human Rights Act, justice is finally within reach.

“Twenty years on from her death, her parents deserve answers – not the cruelty of further delays.”

Des James, father of Cheryl, said:

“Each of the young people who died at Deepcut deserves the dignity of their death being individually investigated.

“After a two-decade battle, we’re finally close to gaining justice for Cheryl – but it’s a sad irony that our new Government is now intent on axing the Human Rights Act, without which we could never have got this far.”

Cheryl was the second recruit to die at Deepcut. Sean Benton had died in June 1995, just months before. Between 2001-2002, Geoff Gray and James Collinson – both 17 – were found dead.  All died of gunshot wounds, prompting Surrey Police to re-investigate the deaths. The investigations concluded that there was no evidence of third-party involvement, but the parents were told very little about what had happened and were refused access to all of the material uncovered by the police. Liberty is also acting for the families of James Collinson and Sean Benton.

Liberty is extremely sad to announce that Linda Benton, Sean’s mother, died peacefully in her sleep on Friday 15 May 2015. She is survived by her daughter, Tracy, and Sean’s twin brother, Tony. Tracy and Tony will take Sean’s case forward.

Emma Norton said: “Linda remained determined to the end. She refused to accept that Sean had simply committed suicide. The rumours of bullying, abuse and the fundamental unanswered questions were too strong and too real to ignore.

“We are privileged and honoured to have known Linda and extend our sincerest condolences to her family.”

CONTACT: Liberty Press Office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128