Thursday 29 September 2016

Parents of Cheryl James (18) praised for 21 year fight for justice after 'regrettable' death of young private

Dominic Harris and Kate Ferguson

Published 03/06/2016 | 12:28

Private Cheryl James, one of the soldiers found dead at the Deepcut Army barracks, as a two-decade fight for justice will finally come to an end for her family on Friday, when a coroner delivers the long-awaited ruling into how she died Credit: PA Wire
Private Cheryl James, one of the soldiers found dead at the Deepcut Army barracks, as a two-decade fight for justice will finally come to an end for her family on Friday, when a coroner delivers the long-awaited ruling into how she died Credit: PA Wire

The coroner of an inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James said it was "regrettable" her death was not better investigated at the time - and praised her parents for their fight for justice.

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The young private, 18, died from a fatal bullet wound at Deepcut barracks in November 1995 - one of four young recruits to die at the Army training camp in Surrey over seven years.

A fresh inquest was ordered into her death after High Court judges quashed an open verdict recorded in December 1995.

Speaking at the conclusion of the fresh inquest at Woking Coroner's Court, Coroner Brian Barker QC said: "This has been a long and a difficult exercise, and many events since the autumn of 1995 have had to be examined.

Des and Doreen James, parents of Private Cheryl James, arrive at Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Des and Doreen James, parents of Private Cheryl James, arrive at Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

"I begin by recognising the patience and loving fortitude of Mr and Mrs James. They have waited for far too long for the proper examination of the circumstances of their daughter's death and it is clear to all they have devoted immense energy and devotion to that end."

He added: "It is highly regrettable that the investigation of Ms James' death in 1995 was not more thorough and the scene of her death not more fully and scientifically investigated.

"Had it been, some of the inconsistencies of memory might have been avoided and the scientific evidence might have been of much better quality."

Ms James' parents, Des and Doreen - who sat in the court listening intently to the coroner, spent many years fighting for the fresh inquest to be held.

Read more: Deepcut soldier denies having sex with Cheryl James on the night before she died

Pte James, from Llangollen, North Wales, was one of four soldiers who died at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse.

Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth, Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, North Wales, Private Sean Benton from Hastings, East Sussex and Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Hackney, east London PRESS ASSOCIATION
Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth, Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, North Wales, Private Sean Benton from Hastings, East Sussex and Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Hackney, east London PRESS ASSOCIATION

Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray also died from gunshot wounds.

Coroner Mr Barker said several reviews and investigations into the culture at Deepcut had revealed "the many and obvious inadequacies and shortcomings" at the barracks.

But he said his findings would only look at criticisms of the culture and command at the barracks insofar as it was linked to Pte James's death.

He said: "Many witnesses had adverse experiences there, but it is outside the remit of this inquest to inquire into events concerning people other than Ms James, or to make findings about other matters.

"For this reason, I've left unexplored many alleged events and shortcomings of the Deepcut regime except where there is some basis for saying they might have been linked to Ms James's death."

Mr Barker said Surrey Police had apologised and recognised that they should have taken primacy of the initial investigation in 1995.

Pte James had been carrying out lone guard duty at Deepcut barracks when she was found dead, a situation the coroner said military rules should not have allowed.

Read more: Soldier 'shaken' after sergeant locked her in a room and chased her to try to have his way with her' - inquest hears

"It seems to me that lone armed guard duty is a potentially dangerous activity," he said.

A policy was in place that meant women should not be left alone on guard duty, but Mr Barker said "there was at Deepcut a wholesale lack of awareness of that provision".

The lack of awareness of the rules was common to both officers and non-commissioned officers, he said, and suggested it was "not an isolated, individual failing".

He said it was "at least arguable" that the potential risk to women on lone guard duty "should have been identified and steps taken to reduce that risk before Ms James's death".

Deepcut barracks failed in its duty of care to its young recruits, the coroner said.

There were far too few officers to train and look after the young squaddies, who were left bored and indisciplined, Mr Barker said.

He said: "The ratio of staff to squaddies was inadequate."

He added: "While some intermittent training was provided, there were too few permanent staff to deliver it and put into place a structured regime to occupy and meet a duty of care to those young men and women."

One witness told the inquest that Deepcut was like a "sausage machine that had become clogged".

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