Deepcut soldier Cheryl James's father urges 'thorough investigation' into death


The father of a teenage soldier found dead at an army barracks has called for a "thorough investigation" into her death after an inquest heard new forensic evidence had shown she may not have killed herself.

Private Cheryl James, 18, 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.

Lawyers for Pte James's family say new pathological evidence has revealed possible "third party involvement" in her death - a claim which Surrey Police have described as "speculation in the extreme".

At the first day of a fresh inquest into her death, Pte James's father Des said there had been an "assumption of suicide" by the force during their 2002 investigation into his daughter's death.

He told Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey: "It felt cursory. It felt rushed.

"It was clear to us that they believed it was a suicide."

Mr James told the court he voiced concerns with Surrey Police that their resources were "stretched" after the force's barrister John Beggs QC pointed out they had also been investigating the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the M25 rapist.

Mr Beggs said: "Did it ever occur that you yourself might have been distracting Surrey Police from what they thought were more pressing matters?"

Coroner Brian Barker QC interrupted and said: "I'm not happy with that question."

The inquest heard Pte James had been the victim of an alleged rape by two boys when she was 14 and she had taken an overdose of paracetamol after the suicide of her 18-year-old cousin Rob in 1992.

Mr James, 66, fought back tears as the court heard details of his nephew's death which he said was the "final straw" for his adopted daughter who ran away from home twice before moving out aged 17.

He told the inquest he and his wife Doreen were not aware of the alleged rape at the time it was said to have happened.

"All my wife knew was she wanted to get the morning after pill," Mr James said.

"The alleged assault was something we found we found about a lot later."

Mr Beggs said three people had come forward to say Pte James had spoken to them about shooting herself before her death, including one who claimed she had said "the only way to get out of the army is to put a gun to your head".

Mr James said the comments could possibly be explained by "bravado".

He told the inquest: "It doesn't sound to me so surprising. She was probably giggling."

Mr James said he last spoke to his daughter on her 18th birthday and she had not told him about her desire to leave the army.

He added: "I would like a thorough inquest, a thorough investigation, that takes a look at the forensic evidence that was missed or not checked."

A second inquest into the death of Pte James, from Llangollen in North Wales, is examining evidence suggesting she may have been sexually exploited by senior ranks shortly before her death.

Lawyers for Pte James's family had called for the hearing to be delayed to allow "important" forensic evidence to be heard before other witnesses were called.

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."

But Mr Beggs said the suggestion of third party involvement was "speculative in the extreme".

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

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

The inquest - which is expected to last seven weeks - was adjourned until Tuesday, when Mr James will continue his evidence.