Inspector apologises for two-hour investigation of Deepcut soldier's death
A former inspector has apologised to the family of Deepcut soldier Private Cheryl James about the limited police investigation into her death.
The 18-year-old recruit was discovered with a fatal bullet wound on November 27 1995 - one of four young soldiers to die at the training camp in Surrey over a seven-year period.
Surrey Police decided there were "no suspicious circumstances" surrounding her death within around two hours of officers arriving at the scene, an inquest at Surrey Coroners Court in Woking was told.
Former Inspector Michael Day arrived at 9.04am and handed the investigation over to the coroner and military at 11.12am.
Alison Foster QC, representing the family, asked: "A sudden death was a matter for the chief constable rather than the military wasn't it?"
Mr Day replied: "I'm not aware, no."
Ms Foster continued: "You can take it from me that is the case and Surrey Police have in fact apologised to the family."
"I was aware and would add my apology to that," he answered.
He added: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I had to make that decision again I would have without a doubt taken a different course of action."
He said that letters found in Cheryl's quarters "suggested that she was troubled over things" but admitted there was never a suggestion of any suicide note.
Ms Foster accused Mr Day of basing his decision on a "set of assumptions" without a proper investigation of the scene.
She added: "By about 11.12am a decision had been reached that this was not a suspicious death, in other words it was a suicide.
"At that point there was no fingerprint evidence taken from the gun. No swabs taken of Cheryl James's hands or face. No fingertip search of the area around the body before it was moved. No ballistics testing of any cartridge case."
Ms Foster continued: "Without any investigation or independence of mind you were prepared to take from military personnel at the scene... you were prepared to take their conclusions and assumptions."
"Yes I did take their conclusions," Mr Day replied.
Mr Day stopped to shake hands with Pte James's father Des as he left.
The rifle found beside Pte James's body was put back into service months after her death, the inquest was told.
Michael Burrows, a former armourer at Deepcut, said he inspected the gun at the scene and made it safe.
After a second inspection for any faults, the gun was sealed inside an evidence bag in the armoury ready for any forensic or ballistics testing but no further tests were carried out, he said.
Mr Burrows was told to clean the weapon because it was going back into service "a few months later".
David Norton, a former ammunition technician, said military officers used their "hands and feet" to search for the spent cartridge around the body.
"It was not a fingertip search," he added.
The casing was eventually found "no more than two metres" from the rifle and the serial number came from the same batch as the bullets in the gun, he said.
His colleague Jeremy Fricker said in a statement that the officers searching for the cartridge were "kicking" the undergrowth.
The inquest will continue on Thursday.