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Bullet fragments recovered from exhumed body of Deepcut soldier Cheryl James

Published 10/09/2015

The body of Cheryl James was exhumed at her family's request
The body of Cheryl James was exhumed at her family's request

Bullet fragments were recovered from the exhumed body of a young soldier who died at Deepcut Barracks and will undergo further testing, an inquest was told.

Private Cheryl James was undergoing initial training when she was found with a bullet wound to her head in November 1995.

The 18-year-old, from Llangollen, North Wales, was one of four soldiers who died at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse.

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

Last year High Court judges ordered a fresh inquest into Pte James's death after they quashed an open verdict recorded in December 1995.

At a pre-inquest review at Woking Coroner's Court today, coroner Brian Barker QC said Pte James's body was exhumed at the family's request.

"Following consideration of the submission made by the family at the last hearing I made an order on 4 June," he said.

"As a result of that the exhumation took place on the 10th of August.

"Cheryl James was reburied after a short ceremony with the close family present."

A post mortem examination was carried out by two experts and "metallic fragments" were recovered which will be analysed by a ballistics expert, the inquest was told.

The full inquest on February 1, which is expected to last seven weeks, will consider whether a third party was involved in Pte James's death and what happened on the evening before she died.

It will also address whether there were "shortcomings" with barrack policies on sexual behaviour, supervision of young females, drugs, alcohol and accommodation, the hearing was told.

Pte James's father previously said he believed the families of the four soldiers faced "serious injustice" and he was "disappointed by the delays instigated by Surrey Police" after it asked for the inquest to be adjourned in February.

"There are serious questions that have not been answered and some evidence to suggest uncertainty as to the origin of the bullet," Des James said.

Fighting back tears, he added: "You lose a child, there's no children and then there's no grandchildren, and so it goes on. It's very difficult to explain that.

"We're faced with a serious injustice here. I believe there's another three in Deepcut."

Mr James said: "There's a host of anecdotal evidence around the Deepcut deaths that points in the direction of inappropriate sexual behaviour by recruits and by NCOs (non-commissioned officers)."

Another pre-inquest review will take place on December 14.

Alison Foster QC, representing the soldier's family, said the ballistics expert should not have strong links to either the MoD or Surrey Police.

"It appears to us to be essential that whoever we use in this case ought not to have a significant connection either with the MoD or indeed a police force and certainly no connection with Surrey Police force because there has been a considerable shadow over the handling of this matter by the military involved and the police force who came later to investigate," she added.

"We make significant criticisms of both."

The coroner agreed but said it was "inevitable" that a ballistics expert would have been employed by another police force.

He also appealed for any witnesses who gave evidence in the first inquest to contact the coroner's office.

"Reasonable progress has been made (contacting witnesses) but all the predictable difficulties have emerged because of the lapse of time and the way people inevitably move around," he said.

"I hope to hear from anyone who has previously given a statement and not been contacted during the enquiry to contact this coroner's court."

Mr James made an emotional appeal for any potential witnesses to come forward.

"You will have heard today that Cheryl has been exhumed and reburied in August," he said, fighting back tears.

"A second post-mortem has already taken place.

"You will understand that this is a very distressing time for my wife and I, and is something I do not wish to discuss publicly.

"One thing I do feel very, very strongly about is there are still a lot of people out there with evidence to give who have not yet come forward to this inquest."

He added: "Therefore, speaking directly to those people - this is the final opportunity.

"If you know anything at all about Cheryl's death this is the last opportunity you will have to come forward.

"It's a personal appeal for anyone, both past and present service personnel, who know anything about Cheryl's death please come forward, help us to draw a line under this, help us to know everything there is to know about how Cheryl died and help prevent anything like Deepcut from ever happening again."

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