Deepcut barracks staff 'guilty' over private's death, inquest told

Staff at Deepcut barracks were "guilty" over the death of Private Sean Benton, an inquest has heard.

On June 9 1995, Pte Benton was found with five bullets in his chest, shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army.

He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002.

A fresh inquest into the death of the 20-year-old at Woking Coroner's Court has heard claims of bullying at the barracks, with allegations made against two of his instructors - Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan and Corporal Martin Holder.

Giving evidence at the hearing Terri Lewis, who was in charge of guard duty in her role as lance corporal, said she witnessed Pte Benton being both physically and mentally abused.

Describing what the young soldier would confide in her, she said: "He would approach me, we would talk about situations that he was feeling particularly down (about), that he wasn't liking Deepcut, that he felt like he was being bullied, that he was being singled out, that he was being picked on."

Bridget Dolan, counsel to the inquest, asked the witness what physical and mental abuse she witnessed Pte Benton being subjected too.

Ms Lewis said she had seen Sgt Gavaghan and Cpl Holder verbally and physically attack him.

She explained: "I did witness Sgt Gavaghan and Cpl Holder at times single him out and punch him and push him down.

"On one occasion he (Sgt Gavaghan) pulled him out of the parade square and was just punching him repeatedly in the arm."

The inquest heard that when Ms Lewis raised concerns about the treatment of the recruits, she was laughed at.

The court heard that at the start of June that year Pte Benton was charged following an incident at a pub where he threatened to shoot at Ms Lewis and her car.

While Ms Lewis tried to deal with the issue by giving the soldier extra guard duty, the court has heard her superiors insisted that she charge him.

The inquest was told that after being charged Pte Benton broke down in tears and Ms Lewis thought he should not have been put on guard duty with a live rifle.

Explaining her reaction when she found out about Pte Benton's death, she said: "On hearing of Sean's death in the morning we all gathered in the staff room at some point.

"I was heartbroken when I heard and made an outburst in the room."

Asked what she said, Ms Lewis replied: "That we were more or less guilty of what had happened and that we were all accountable in some form, and when it came to Sean's inquest or tribunal that I would give my opinion in terms of why I think he took his own life."

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