Liberty seeks fresh inquest into Army recruit’s death at Deepcut
18 October 2013
Today Liberty announced it has applied for a fresh inquest into the death of a young British Army recruit at Deepcut barracks.
Cheryl James, 18, was undergoing initial training at the Surrey base when she was found dead – with a bullet wound between her right eye and the bridge of her nose – back in 1995. She was one of four young recruits to lose their lives at the Royal Logistics Corps camp in mysterious circumstances between 1995 and 2002.
Liberty, which represents Cheryl’s parents Des and Doreen James, has lodged an application with the Attorney General for a new inquest after using the Human Rights Act to secure access to documentation held by the authorities about the teenager’s death.
Cheryl was found dead early one morning in November 1995, and Surrey Police quickly handed the matter over to the Army. Her death was immediately treated as suicide – despite her being described as “bubbly” and “happy” prior to her death – and no forensic post-mortem was held. An inquest, held within a month of Cheryl’s death, lasted just an hour. Key witnesses were not called, medical records went uninspected and important evidence was ignored. An “open” verdict was recorded.
She was the second recruit to die at Deepcut. Sean Benton – whose family Liberty is also now representing – died in June 1995, just months beforehand. And in 2001/2002 Geoff Gray and James Collinson also lost their lives. All died of gunshot wounds – prompting Surrey Police to re-investigate Cheryl’s death.
Officers took hundreds of statements and instructed forensic experts. According to Surrey Police, their investigation concluded that Cheryl’s wounds were not inconsistent with self-infliction. But Des and Doreen were given very little information about what happened to their daughter and were refused access to any of the material uncovered by police. They turned to Liberty for help and, after relying on the Human Rights Act to threaten legal proceedings, the human rights group gained access to all of the documentation – 44 volumes of statements, documents, notes and photographs. The material contains significant forensic evidence that has never before been properly examined and suggests important witnesses may have lied – prompting Liberty to seek a fresh inquest into Cheryl’s death.
Emma Norton, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: “Cheryl’s grieving family have been consistently snubbed by the state in their quest to discover what really happened to their daughter – only a fresh inquest can deliver the truth they so deserve.
“The human rights of our troops are worthy of exactly the same protection as everyone else – until what happened to these young people at Deepcut is competently, calmly and independently investigated, justice will not be done".
Des and Doreen James, Cheryl’s parents, added: “We’re disappointed it has taken close to 18 years for us to even get disclosure of the evidence related to Cheryl’s premature death.
“No family should ever have to go through what we’ve experienced, and the fact there still has never been any meaningful inquiry into the four deaths at Deepcut remains a stain on the integrity of everyone involved. All four were placed in the care of the state and all four were badly let down.
“The implications of the new evidence is both serious and extremely worrying for us but we have every confidence in Liberty and our entire legal team.”
Contact: Liberty Press Office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. Cheryl James joined the Royal Logistics Corps of the British Army in the summer of 1995. She died on November 27 that year.
2. In 2006 Nicholas Blake QC (as he then was) conducted an independent review of the Deepcut deaths. He did not have the power to call witnesses or seize evidence. He expressed concern to the families that Surrey Police had been less than forthcoming with him, but concluded that there was no evidence to suggest third party involvement in Cheryl’s death. Again, Des and Doreen were not given any access to the information inspected during this review.
3. Liberty’s application for a fresh inquest is made pursuant to s13 of the Coroners Act 1988. This allows for a fresh inquest to be applied for where there is evidence of fraud, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry or new evidence meaning a fresh inquest ought to be ordered. If persuaded, the Attorney General grants his fiat – the formal process whereby the matter is referred to the High Court for consideration.
4. In securing access to all of the material held by Surrey Police, Liberty relied upon Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, the right to life. This protection includes the right to an independent investigation into a death where there is suspicion of state involvement or culpability. That includes a right of access by the family to relevant information about their loved one. It was on this basis that Liberty threatened High Court proceedings against Surrey Police and secured access to the material.
5. Liberty has recently also been instructed by Sean Benton’s family, and will shortly be undertaking the same process for them.