Deepcut: new inquest ordered into death of Cheryl James
Family of teenager Private Cheryl James, who died at Deepcut, win breakthrough in 18-year battle for justice
A new inquest will be held into the death of Cheryl James, a young Army recruit who died from a single gunshot wound at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in 1995. Her family renewed their calls for an inquest in March this year when secret police evidence about the case came to light.
Cheryl's mother, Doreen James, told the BBC that she was "over the moon" that an inquest would now go ahead.
"It's dreadful to lose a child but when you really haven't had the opportunity to find out what happened you never can get closure," she said. "I hope for all the other families that have lost their children that this will lead to other investigations."
The Ministry of Defence said it would continue to support and co-operate with the inquiry.
What happened at Deepcut?
Private Cheryl James from Llangollen, North Wales was just 18 years old and undergoing initial training at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey when she was found dead in November 1995. Her body was discovered with a bullet through her forehead in woodland outside the barracks. An inquest into her death recorded an open verdict.
James was one of four young soldiers who died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002, provoking allegations of bullying and abuse. The other three victims – Privates Geoff Gray, 17, Sean Benton, 20, and James Collinson, 17 – were all found with fatal gunshot wounds. The victims' families rejected suggestions their children had committed suicide, accused the Army of a cover-up and called for a public inquiry.
A subsequent Surrey Police investigation concluded that there was no evidence of third-party involvement, but James's parents were refused access to material uncovered by the police. A later investigation by deputy High Court judge Nicholas Blake QC also rejected the families' calls for a public inquiry.
So why the new inquest now?
The request came after civil rights group Liberty helped the James family unearth a large cache of "significant" new evidence, reports the Daily Telegraph. The campaign group threatened the police with legal action under the Human Rights Act, prompting the force to finally cave in and hand over documents relating to the teenager's death. Liberty says these have never been properly examined and claims the original inquest failed to call key witnesses, ignored important evidence and left medical records uninspected. The Attorney General has granted consent to James's family to apply to the High Court for a new inquest on the basis that "the original inquest made insufficient enquiry into the circumstances of her death and because new evidence is now available that was not put before the inquest in December 1995".
What was in the secret police files?
Police handed over 44 volumes of files, including witness statements, documents, notes and photographs, which contain "significant forensic evidence and suggests important witnesses may have lied", according to Liberty. Some 70 per cent of the papers had never been seen before by James's family.