Deepcut Barracks culture 'out of control', says grieving father
The father of a young soldier who may have been raped before she was found dead more than 20 years ago said he believes an "out of control" culture at her army barracks contributed to her death.
A fresh inquest is set to open into the death of Private Cheryl James, 18, who was discovered with a fatal gunshot wound at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in 1995 - one of four army recruits to die there over a seven-year period.
New evidence emerged last month that suggested Pte James may have been sexually exploited by senior ranks shortly before her death.
Speaking ahead of the start of the inquest on Monday, Des James said he hoped for "justice" for his daughter and the other young soldiers who died at Deepcut.
He told the Press Association: "We know the culture at the camp was out of control. There was a drug and alcohol culture.
"The bottom line is a culture was created at the camp which contributed to the death of four people. There has to be an acceptance that the culture was wrong.
"The Ministry of Defence talk about a zero tolerance to bullying. What on earth does that mean? It means nothing.
"The Deepcut situation is the tip of the iceberg. We have to get to the bottom of what happened."
Pte James 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.
Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray also died from gunshot wounds at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002.
In 2014, High Court judges ordered a fresh inquest into Pte James's death after they quashed an open verdict recorded in December 1995.
Alison Foster QC, representing the family, told a pre-inquest hearing last month that they had material suggesting Pte James "may have been sexually coerced or raped the night before, or before the time of her death".
There was also a "direct allegation" that the teenage soldier might have been ordered to sleep with a person "by someone superior in rank to her", the barrister said.
Mr James, 66, said hearing the new evidence was "shocking".
"It was highly emotional," he said. "It's the last thing parents want to hear. It's the one thing a father dreads.
"It's an allegation and it has to remain an allegation until it's properly investigated. We have to follow the evidence."
He added: "I want justice for all four of them. It goes beyond my daughter and the kids who died at Deepcut.
"This is an issue of recruits being passed weekly into the hands of the Ministry of Defence and their duty of care."
Emma Norton, a lawyer for human rights charity Liberty - which is representing the family, said: "This process has always been about getting a proper investigation into how Cheryl came by her death.
"The family does not have a particular outcome in mind. They will follow the evidence to wherever it leads them.
"Right from the outset, an early determination was made that this must have been a suicide. Why? It's anyone's guess. That approach has affected everything that has followed.
"The family is not saying suicide has not happened. They are saying the authorities have yet to establish that happened.
"For years it was only the army involved in the investigation. That was a source of enormous concern."
Pte James' father Des and mother Doreen applied through human rights campaign group Liberty for a new inquest after the Human Rights Act was used to secure access to documents held by the authorities about the teenager's death.
The body of Pte James, from Llangollen in north Wales, was exhumed in August and a post-mortem examination was carried out by two experts. Metallic fragments were recovered which have been analysed by a ballistics expert.
The full inquest will consider whether a third party was involved in her death and what happened on the evening before she died. I t will also address whether there were "shortcomings" with barracks policies on sexual behaviour, supervision of young females, drugs, alcohol and accommodation.
The family have requested the scope of the new inquest be widened to take account of new testimony which they believe sheds new light on Pte James's state of mind.
Ms Norton said the families of Privates Benton and Collinson, which Liberty also represent, had expressed their hopes for fresh inquests into their deaths in the near future.
The inquest into Pte James's death is due to take place before Brian Barker QC at Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey and is expected to last seven weeks.