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Soldier family want body exhumed

Published 19/05/2015

Private Cheryl James died at Deepcut
Private Cheryl James died at Deepcut

The family of a young soldier who died at Deepcut Barracks have urged a coroner to allow her body to be exhumed as they voiced their dismay at delays to the inquest into her death.

Private Cheryl James was undergoing initial training when she was found with a bullet wound to her head in November 1995.

The 18-year-old, from Llangollen, North Wales, 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.

At a pre-inquest review at Woking Coroner's Court today, coroner Brian Barker QC said he would wait for a doctor's report before deciding whether to take the "difficult and unusual" step to exhume Pte James's body.

Addressing the coroner, Alison Foster QC, representing the soldier's family, said: "We're really dismayed to be at this point today. From our standpoint, an exhumation would be necessary for you to carry out a full and proper inquiry."

Ms Foster said bullet fragments in the body of Pte James were yellow, when the SA80 rifle she was armed with used red bullets.

She added: "There is no actual evidence that it was an SA80 that caused the bullet wound to Cheryl."

The coroner ruled that the full inquest on February 1 - which is expected to last seven weeks - would 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 the barracks's policies on sexual behaviour, supervision of young females, drugs, alcohol and accommodation, the hearing was told.

Speaking outside court, Pte James's father said he believed the families of the four soldiers faced "serious injustice" and he was "disappointed by the delays instigated by Surrey Police" after it asked for the inquest to be adjourned in February.

The coroner today refused a request from the force which had called for Pte James's inquest to be heard alongside inquests into the deaths of the other three soldiers.

Her family had 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.

Des James said: "There finally seems to be some momentum today - this despite the time-wasting from Surrey Police that my wife and I have found so stressful these past few weeks.

"There are serious questions that have not been answered and some evidence to suggest uncertainty as to the origin of the bullet."

Fighting back tears, he added: "You lose a child, there's no children and then there's no grandchildren, and so it goes on. It's very difficult to explain that.

"We're faced with a serious injustice here. I believe there's another three in Deepcut."

Addressing the coroner's plan to look at Deepcut Barracks' policy on sexual behaviour, Mr James said: "There's a host of anecdotal evidence around the Deepcut deaths that points in the direction of inappropriate sexual behaviour by recruits and by NCOs (non-commissioned officers)."

A Surrey Police spokeswoman said: "Surrey Police is supportive of the view that there should be a thorough inquest into circumstances surrounding the death of Pte James and our thoughts remain with her family.

"The arrangements for the inquest are ultimately a matter for the coroner and Surrey Police will continue to support the coronial process.

"The force has now completed the review of disclosure documents relating to Pte James."

Another pre-inquest review will take place on September 10.

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