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Human Rights Act: Father of Deepcut soldier criticises government plans to scrap legislation

Published 18/05/2015

Private Cheryl James was found dead with a bullet wound in the head in November 1995
Private Cheryl James was found dead with a bullet wound in the head in November 1995

The father of a soldier who died at Deepcut barracks has criticised the Government's plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Des James said that securing a fresh inquest into the death of his daughter Private Cheryl James would not have been possible without the legislation, which the Conservatives have pledged to replace.

Private James, 18, was undergoing initial training when she was found dead with a bullet wound between her right eye and the bridge of her nose in November 1995.

She 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. A pre-inquest review before Brian Barker QC will be held tomorrow at Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey.

Mr James said the Human Rights Act had helped lawyers for the family access documents held by authorities about the death of his daughter.

He said: " Each of the young people who died at Deepcut deserves the dignity of their death being individually investigated.

"After a two-decade battle, we're finally close to gaining justice for Cheryl - but it's a sad irony that our new Government is now intent on axing the Human Rights Act, without which we could never have got this far."

The Government has not outlined specific details of its plans to repeal the legislation since the general election. In their manifesto the Tories said they intend to scrap the Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights in order to break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The pre-inquest review will consider Surrey Police's request that Pte James's inquest should be heard alongside inquests into the deaths of the other three soldiers.

Her family have voiced concerns that doing so could cause further delays because fresh inquests have yet to be ordered into the deaths of Pte Benton, Pte Collinson and Pte Gray.

The coroner is also expected to decide whether Pte James's body will be exhumed, the date and scope of the inquest and whether there will be a jury .

Emma Norton, a lawyer for Liberty, which is representing the family, said: "Cheryl's family have had to fight every step of the way for answers about their daughter's death - and thanks to the Human Rights Act, justice is finally within reach.

"Twenty years on from her death, her parents deserve answers - not the cruelty of further delays."

Meanwhile Liberty, which campaigns for civil liberties and human rights, paid tribute to Pte Benton's mother Linda, who died on Friday.

"Linda remained determined to the end," Ms Norton said. "She refused to accept that Sean had simply committed suicide. The rumours of bullying, abuse and the fundamental unanswered questions were too strong and too real to ignore."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The Government was elected with a manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.

"Ministers will be discussing their plans on this and making announcements in due course."

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