Sunday 22 April 2018

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

Private Cheryl James. Credit: PA Wire
Private Cheryl James. Credit: PA Wire

Dominic Harris

A young female soldier was left "shaken and upset" after a sergeant locked her in a room and chased her to "try to have his way with her" just weeks before her death, her best friend told an inquest.

Private Cheryl James was sexually pursued by the more senior officer while she was being punished for being caught in a male accommodation block during a training course, Woking Coroner's Court heard.

The incident occurred less than a fortnight before the 18-year-old was found dead from a bullet wound at Deepcut Army barracks in Surrey in November 1995.

Pte James was one of four young soldiers who died at the barracks over a seven-year-period, and a fresh inquest into her death was told forensic evidence had shown she may not have killed herself.

Jane Worboys, who joined the Army in May 1995 in the same cohort as Pte James, told the inquest she was a "bubbly, fun and very popular" young woman.

But when she returned from a driver training course to Leconfield in Hull, where she had a boyfriend, she told Ms Worboys she had been targeted by a sergeant while she was on a three-day restricted privileges punishment.

The sergeant called her to his office, Ms Worboys said, and "he tried to have his way with her. She told me that he had locked the door and was chasing her around the desk. As far as I am aware nothing physically happened on that occasion.

"I think she was physically upset and shaken by what had happened. We talked it through together, but we didn't know how to get anything done about it. We didn't know who to report it to, there was no-one who was approachable."

But on the day she died, November 27, she was back to her normal self, Ms Worboys said.

The inquest heard that there was a "toxic" environment at Deepcut barracks, where male instructors sexually pursued young recruits, alcohol was rife and inadequate supervision created a "morally chaotic environment".

Ms Worboys told the inquest that during their training she and Pte James deliberately failed a shooting test so they could avoid going to a camp at which instructors planned to lead alcohol-fuelled drinking games.

Prior to that Pte James was fined £50 for accidentally discharging her weapon during training on a rifle range.

The inquest also heard that another non-commissioned officer "took a shine" to Pte James at Deepcut barracks and gave her "good jobs", but after she returned from Leconfield she was singled out for tasks such as litter picking.

Ms Worboys described Pte James as one of her "closest friends", saying she had confided in her about her cousin's suicide three years before and that she had allegedly been raped when she was 14.

She told the inquest: "I think for someone so young she was coping with an awful lot. I agree she did have a lot on her plate but I don't believe that led her to take her own life."

The inquest continues on Thursday.

Press Association

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