Deepcut: new evidence shows soldier may not have killed herself


New scientific evidence has shown a teenage soldier found dead at an army barracks more than 20 years ago may not have killed herself, a pre-inquest review has heard.

A fresh inquest is due to take place into the death of Private Cheryl James, 18, who was discovered with a fatal bullet wound at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in November 1995 - one of four recruits to die there over a seven-year period.

At a hearing at Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey, lawyers for Pte James's family called for the inquest to be delayed by a few weeks to allow "important" pathological evidence to be properly considered.

Alison Foster QC, representing the family, said: "Now there is distinguished pathological evidence that the shot that killed Cheryl James may not have been self-inflicted.

"Third party involvement is more than merely speculative, according to this inquest's pathologist.

"It's important such evidence is fully acquired and assimilated."

Ms Foster said it was not "fair or practical" to hear the scientific evidence towards the end of the inquest.

Pte James's father Des, who sat in court and is due to give evidence, was "desperately eager" for the inquest to start but the delay was "essential", she added.

"This remains a very unusual case. It is a matter of agreement that the evidence before the previous coroner showed a happy and bubbly girl," Ms Foster said.

John Beggs QC, representing Surrey Police, said the suggestion of third party involvement was "speculative in the extreme".

Evidence that Pte James was a "troubled young lady who might have had suicidal ideation" had "intensified" since Nicholas Blake QC's review of the case, he said.

He said the review in 2006 had heard that Pte James talked about the death of another recruit, Pte Sean Benton, while on lone guard duty and she had "mentioned shooting herself around this time".

"She had personal problems in her private life to resolve," he said.

"There was an absence of any reason why this popular young woman would be subjected to an attack by another."

Coroner Brian Barker QC ruled that the inquest should go ahead as planned as there was no "practical unfairness" in scientific experts being heard later in the proceedings.

The inquest will examine new evidence suggesting Pte James, from Llangollen in North Wales, may have been sexually exploited by senior ranks shortly before her death.

High Court judges ordered the fresh inquest in 2014 after they quashed an open verdict recorded in December 1995

Mr Barker has said he will not consider claims of a "wider culture of sexual abuse" at Deepcut because he is not conducting a public inquiry.

Privates Benton, 20, James Collinson, 17, and Geoff Gray, 17, also died from gunshot wounds at the barracks between 1995 and 2002.

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