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Deepcut trainees faced 'sexualised, morally chaotic' environment, inquest told

Published 10/02/2016

Private Cheryl James, who died at Deepcut in November 1995
Private Cheryl James, who died at Deepcut in November 1995

Young soldiers training at Deepcut Army barracks lived in a "highly sexualised" environment where senior staff preyed on recruits in an "abuse and misuse" of power, an inquest heard.

An absence of supervision and welfare also helped create a "morally chaotic environment" at the barracks where 18-year-old Private Cheryl James was found dead from a bullet wound in November 1995, the Army's director of personal services Brigadier John Donnelly conceded.

Brig Donnelly had previously apologised to Pte James' family for a situation at Deepcut which he recognised as having failed new soldiers who were stationed there waiting to do phase two training, having completed phase one.

On the third day of an inquest into her death, Woking Coroner's Court heard that sexual activity was so rife at the barracks that a room was unofficially put aside for young men to have sexual relationships, which were banned in rooms.

Relationships took place between recruits and senior staff, and shortly before Pte James' arrival a Regimental Sergeant Major was dismissed over "impropriety regarding sexual and alcohol matters".

The court was told that women only began training at the barracks two years before Pte James' death, and Alison Foster QC, representing her family, suggested there was a "misogynistic" atmosphere.

Asked by Ms Foster about evidence of a "highly sexualised atmosphere" and whether he accepted that there was an "abuse and misuse" of power at the barracks, Brig Donnelly said: "There was certainly a sexualised atmosphere at Deepcut, yes."

Ms Foster said: "Do you accept that this could present a morally chaotic environment for a young female person of teenage years?", adding: "The pressure on a young female recruit could be intolerable, couldn't it?"

Brig Donnelly replied: "Yes. We did not have the structures in place to provide a proper duty of care."

Asked if there was a "significant culture of misogyny in the Army, Brig Donnelly replied: "The attitude and language in certain parts of the Army represented a misogynistic viewpoint, which is seen as of its time."

The inquest heard that male instructors at Deepcut barracks saw women as a "sexual challenge" and that officers and non-commissioned officers sexually propositioned female recruits, leading to complaints.

Jane Worboys, who did basic training with Pte James after joining up in May 1995, said shortly before her death Pte James was locked in a room by a sergeant who chased her and "tried to have his way with her".

She told the inquest Pte James had been put on three days restricted privileges after she was caught in a male accommodation block while on a driver training course at Leconfield in Hull.

During this period the sergeant asked her to go to his office, Ms Worboys said.

She said: "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."

The inquest heard that the environment at Deepcut was "toxic".

A report in 2002 suggested the training atmosphere led to soldiers becoming "bored, demotivated, and increasingly prone to indiscipline", creating a "psychological disadvantage" to weaker individuals, Ms Foster said.

There was clear evidence that guard duty was used a means of punishment, Brig Donnelly admitted, and Ms Foster said that "the potential for self-harm was not a factor considered in respect of guard duty ... and lone guard duty increased the risk of self-harm".

Alcohol was rife at the barracks, routinely brought back to the camp from outside, both by those under 18 and over 18, despite drunkenness being treated as a serious matter.

Ms Foster said: "(Cheryl) was asked to bring back alcohol from home by a sergeant even when she was under 18", but Brig Donnelly replied: "I think you will find it is actually against, is it not?"

There was also inadequate supervision and welfare support for recruits, which led to a "maximum chance for ungoverned behaviour, rule-breaking and the generation of a chaotic environment", Ms Foster said.

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