Father 'very disappointed' as MoD fails to submit Deepcut documents


The Ministry of Defence has failed to submit crucial documents before a deadline in the case of a young solider who died at Deepcut Barracks.

Private Cheryl James, 18, was found with a bullet wound to her head in November 1995 when she was undergoing initial training at the Surrey barracks.

She was one of four soldiers who died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002 amid claims of bullying and abuse. Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson and Geoff Gray also died from gunshot wounds.

A fresh inquest was ordered into Pte James's death after High Court judges quashed an open verdict recorded in December 1995.

At a pre-inquest review at Woking Coroner's Court, the father of Pte James said he was "very disappointed" by the failure of the MoD to supply the documents by the agreed deadline.

Nicholas Moss, representing the MoD, said the sheer volume of files being searched meant much time was taken up deciding which documents were relevant for the inquest, which begins on February 1.

He promised all the relevant documents would be delivered by January 11.

Speaking to reporters after the review, Mr James said: "The MoD have, in my opinion, acted in an extraordinarily arrogant way.

"To come with that today was quite frankly astonishing and would not be acceptable in any walk of life.

"I was very surprised and disappointed. We are back to the situation where (they are saying) 'trust us' and I don't. Why would I?

"Here is an organisation saying, 'we have found 23,000 documents, we are going to decide what is relevant'.

"We have asked on two occasions to help, or to look at the documents, and on two separate occasions we have been told 'no'.

"Even the ones they are allowing to go to court are now going to be redacted. It is nothing short of ridiculous and it is so disappointing I can't tell you."

Alison Foster QC, representing the James family, said: "Relevant documents should be identified by the court and not by any interested party."

Mr Moss argued that the criticism of the MoD was "incorrect and unjustified on a matter of fact".

He said: "The search terms were very wide and have thrown up a huge number of documents which were plainly irrelevant. That is no different to courts up and down the country.

"It is not the case that the MoD has been the arbiter of what is relevant.

"Some documents relate to the other three soldiers, some are false hits, some relate to internal correspondence in the department," he said, adding: "They are completely irrelevant."

He said it was better that the task of compiling the documents was done accurately by people with knowledge of the case than rushed by getting others to join the process.

Coroner Brian Barker said "considerable progress" had been made in contacting people with the status of "interested parties" who would be able to help the inquest.

Mr James, who had issued an appeal alongside his wife for more people to come forward, said: "I think it is very interesting that we have identified more interested parties.

"I think the appeal we made has been extraordinarily successfully in that quite a number of people have come forward with often quite shocking stories.

"I think it is important now for those who have not come forward to look again.

"If they decide to come forward and share their experiences, they will not be alone. There are people who have already done that and I think it is extremely courageous of them."

Pte James's body 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, but that report is still to be finalised, the coroner said.

The full inquest starting on February 1, which is expected to last seven weeks, will 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 barrack policies on sexual behaviour, supervision of young females, drugs, alcohol and accommodation.