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Female recruits at Deepcut told to 'keep mouths shut' after body found

Published 29/02/2016

Private Cheryl James died in 1995
Private Cheryl James died in 1995

Female recruits at Deepcut barracks were told to "keep their mouths shut" after the body of a young soldier was found, an inquest has heard.

Private Cheryl James, 18, was discovered with a fatal bullet wound in November 1995 - one of four recruits to die at the Army training camp in Surrey over a seven-year period.

Claire Barnett said a group of female recruits had gathered in a communal area to comfort each other following Pte James's death when Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan "waltzed" into the room.

The inquest has previously heard claims that Sgt Gavaghan ordered Pte James to have sex with another soldier the night before she died.

Ms Barnett told Woking Coroner's Court: "He (Sgt Gavaghan) came in the room and the way he came in - I would say - he just strolled in.

"He just looked as if nothing had happened, in my personal opinion.

"He asked 'how is everyone doing? Is everyone all right?' Which I thought was pretty stupid at the time.

"People in the room were wrapped in duvets.

"He just waltzed in, strolled over to the window and looked out of the window with his hands behind his back."

Ms Barnett said the women were told not to talk to the press or the police.

She said: "We all came together outside and were basically told 'keep your mouths shut. Don't speak to anyone'. Words to that effect.

"We weren't allowed off camp and no one was allowed on."

Ms Barnett, who said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sat beside her husband during her evidence, told the inquest she spoke briefly to Pte James on the morning of her death.

She said: "I saw in her eyes that something was not right. That something was wrong. I didn't get a chance to press it.

"It was two or three seconds then it was gone."

Pte James's room-mate at the time of her death said they were "petrified" of Sgt Gavaghan and claimed he spied on female recruits while they were on guard duty.

Teresa Sanderson told the inquest she found it "strange" that Sgt Gavaghan's behaviour was common knowledge among his superiors including the regimental sergeant major.

She added that Pte James was "adamant" she did not want to do guard duty on her own on the day of her death.

Asked by Katherine Hardcastle, representing Pte James's family, what she found difficult about Deepcut barracks, Ms Sanderson replied: "The routine. The temperament of people in charge. The unpredictability of it. We never knew what we were doing.

"The tension. The intentions of current individuals. We were petrified of Sgt Gavaghan. He watched us."

Ms Hardcastle asked: "Sgt Gavaghan spied on people when doing guard duty?"

Ms Sanderson replied: "That's correct.

"Gavaghan was ex-guardsman. He was very military orientated. He made it very clear he didn't like female recruits. He didn't think we were up to the job."

The inquest heard that during a 2002 Surrey Police investigation into Pte James's death, Ms Sanderson described being treated "like shit" at Deepcut barracks.

Ms Sanderson said she recalled one occasion when a member of training staff "tried it on" with Pte James.

She thought Pte James had suspected she was pregnant "a couple of times", the witness added.

The pair had fallen out a few weeks before her death and Pte James had thrown her down some stairs during a fight, Ms Sanderson told the inquest.

Francesca Whitelaw, representing Sgt Gavaghan, said it was not disputed that her client had "divided opinion" at the barracks but stories about him had become "Army legend".

Ms Whitelaw said Sgt Gavaghan had caught a soldier sleeping on guard duty which led to the rumour about spying.

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