Second fresh Deepcut inquest granted: High Court orders new investigation into 1995 death of Private Sean Benton

14 October 2016

  • Private Benton, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest in June 1995
  • Family fought for answers for 20 years before using Human Rights Act to secure disclosure of vital police evidence

The High Court has today ordered a fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton – more than 20 years after he died while undergoing training at Deepcut Barracks.

Sean’s twin brother Tony Benton and sister Tracy Lewis, represented by Liberty, applied for a fresh inquest in July 2015. The application was made possible only after their mother Linda Benton, who died last year, used the Human Rights Act to access reams of evidence held by Surrey Police about his death.

A date for the fresh inquest has yet to be set.

Sean, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest on 9 June 1995 – one day 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.

Today’s decision comes four months after the conclusion of a fresh inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James, which exposed the toxic, unsafe and sexualised environment in which Cheryl, Sean and other Deepcut recruits lived.

Background

Sean’s death was immediately investigated by the Army’s internal 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.

In the years since, many people have stated to his family and publicly – including in a major BBC documentary aired earlier this year – that they believe he had endured vicious and prolonged physical and psychological bullying at the barracks.

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 refused access to all materials uncovered by police.

In 2012, Liberty – acting on behalf of Sean’s mother Linda – used Article 2 of the Human Rights Act to insist Surrey Police give her access to all evidence held by the force about her son and his death. They agreed to disclose all relevant material – a process that finally finished in 2015.

Tracy Lewis, Sean’s older sister, said: “Our family had just 20 years with Sean. It has taken us another 21 to secure the thorough, independent inquiry we should have seen immediately after his death. For that reason, our parents are not here with us to see this day.

“For two decades, our family has been tormented by questions about what Sean went through at Deepcut. If his death had been properly investigated in 1995, we would have been spared years of uncertainty and pain.

“It should be a source of huge shame to the Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police that our mother had to fight for so long – far longer than she should have had to – to force the authorities to answer basic questions. We look forward to finally discovering the truth.”

Emma Norton, Liberty’s Legal Director and solicitor for Sean’s family, said: “Just as with the Hillsborough families, the parents of Cheryl James and so many others, the Bentons’ perfectly reasonable questions about their son’s death were met with decades of stonewalling, silence and suspicion.

“Just as in those cases, it was only the Human Rights Act – the law our Government remains determined to repeal – that enabled the family to access information to which they had every right.

“Sean Benton was young and vulnerable. He deserved so much better. We are hopeful his family can now finally have their questions answered and that lessons are learnt so young recruits like Sean are better protected in future.”

ENDS

Contact: Liberty press office on 0207 378 3656, 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk

Notes to editors:

  1. Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – which protects the right to life – requires an effective, proper investigation be carried out into all deaths where there is State involvement. 
  2. Private Cheryl James, 18, died at Deepcut in November 1995, Private Geoff Gray, 17, in September 2001 and Private James Collinson, 17, in March 2002. Liberty also represents the family of Pte Collinson, who are also seeking a fresh inquest into his death, and of Pte James.
  3. In June 2016, Liberty wrote to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon requesting a public inquiry into the physical and sexual abuse at Deepcut that was revealed during and following the Cheryl James inquest.
  4. Liberty’s Military Justice campaign calls for the Government protect and uphold the human rights of members of our Armed Forces by amending the law to embed independence and fairness at the heart of the military justice system.