Deepcut army recruit 'may have been raped before she died'
New evidence suggests a teenage army recruit found dead more than 20 years ago was being sexually exploited by senior ranks shortly before she died, an inquest heard.
Lawyers representing the family of Private Cheryl James want the scope of a new hearing into the 18-year-old's death at the Deepcut Barracks in 1995 to be widened to take account of new testimony which they said today sheds new light on her state of mind.
Alison Foster QC, representing the teenager's family, told a pre-inquest hearing at Woking Coroner's Court they have material suggesting Cheryl "may have been sexually coerced or raped the night before, or before the time of her death".
She added: "There is now a direct allegation that Cheryl might have been ordered to sleep with the person we are calling Witness A by someone superior in rank to her."
She continued: "This is not fraternising. This is not an illicit sexual relationship between two young people across the ranks. This is something quite different."
Pte James, 18, was found with a bullet wound to her head in November 1995 when she was undergoing initial training at the Surrey barracks.
She was one of four soldiers who died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse. Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray also died from gunshot wounds.
A fresh inquest was ordered into Pte James's death after High Court judges quashed an open verdict recorded in December 1995. It is due to start in Woking on February 1.
Coroner Brian Barker QC said he would make a written ruling on whether to widen the scope of the inquest in the next few weeks.
Pte James's father Des was in court today as Ms Foster argued the new material additionally puts a new perspective on evidence already before the coroner.
He and her mother Doreen James applied through human rights campaign group Liberty for a new inquest after the Human Rights Act was used to secure access to documents held by the authorities about the teenager's death.
Nicholas Moss, representing the Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that the new material put forward by Pte James's family was nothing new and cautioned against conducting "satellite investigations", saying it was inappropriate to look into other cases during the inquest.
He said: "This cannot be dressed as new evidence, it is evidence that has been there all along."
Mr Barker said he would consider the new submissions, saying that "whether Cheryl was subject to sexual abuse or pressure may fall within the scope of this inquest" but also warning that "this inquest is not a full inquiry" and he must "focus on what we are here to do".
The hearing was also told that the MoD has now disclosed all its material to Pte James's family. A previous hearing in December heard it failed to submit crucial documents before a deadline.
The body of Pte James, from Llangollen, north Wales, was exhumed in August and a post-mortem examination was carried out by two experts. Metallic fragments were recovered which have been analysed by a ballistics expert.
The full inquest is expected to last seven weeks and 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 barracks policies on sexual behaviour, supervision of young females, drugs, alcohol and accommodation.