Deepcut deaths were murder, independent report suggests

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An independent report into the deaths of four recruits at the Army's Deepcut barracks in Surrey, which suggests they may have been murdered, was described as "devastating" yesterday by the father of one of the soldiers.

The findings by Frank Swann, an independent ballistics expert hired by the families, prompted Surrey police to delay publication of their report into the deaths. It had been planned for Tuesday.

The four soldiers all died from gunshot wounds between 1995 and 2002. The Army has maintained the deaths were suicide.

Des James, whose 18-year-old daughter, Private Cheryl James, died from a bullet wound to the head at the barracks in 1995, said: "We were told it was suicide, but it was never investigated properly.

"To have to change your mindset entirely, to think that somebody else may have been involved in her death is impossible. I cannot get my head around it."

It is understood Surrey police's widely leaked conclusion that there was no "third-party involvement" in the deaths had angered some of the families who yesterday welcomed the report's postponement.

The families have consistently called for a full judicial inquiry into the deaths - a call backed by more than 100 MPs.

Mr Swann, who is working for free, had already indicated that the recruits could not have shot themselves, as the Army maintained. But he had not yet finalised his report. Surrey police had decided to go ahead with publishing the results of their 13-month inquiry without including the expert's conclusions, but the families persuaded the police to wait.

Although supporting the Army's claim that the recruits were not murdered, the police report was expected to embroil the Ministry of Defence in a row over bullying at the barracks and the way the Army handled the initial investigations. Evidence had been destroyed and the scenes of crime had not been kept intact immediately after the shootings.

Geoff Gray, whose son, Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Durham, who was found with two bullet wounds to the head at the barracks in September 2001, said: "All we want to do is to get at the truth and the more information that there is, the more chance of getting the public inquiry, that we really want."

Three more bullets were fired from the gun that killed Pte Gray but were not found.

Jim Collinson, whose son Private James Collinson, 20, from Perth, died of a single gunshot wound in March 2002, added: "I have always said my son was murdered. James was with his mother that week and was happy and looking forward to the future. To have gone ahead without Frank Swann's findings would have been like playing with half a deck of cards. Frank is the only forensic expert to have gone into the barracks."

Mr Swann, who spent six weeks at the barracks reconstructing the shootings, found that in the cases of three recruits - Private Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, who died from five bullet wounds to the chest in June 1995, Private James and Private Gray - the chances of suicide or accidental discharge of their weapon was "highly unlikely". In Private Collinson's case he considered suicide "unlikely".

The police report was understood to have contained "a massive amount of material on failings by the Army" in connection to the investigations.

The Army has also been accused of "obstruction or at best complacency" towards further investigations.

Kevin McNamara, a Labour MP who has campaigned for a proper investigation into the deaths, said: "Whatever the findings of the police, the Army owed them a duty of care ... There were aspects of the Army regime that contributed in a negative way towards their deaths."

An independent survey published by the MoD two weeks ago found that a quarter of recruits at Deepcut felt they had been victimised, 55 per cent said they had felt lonely and 10 per cent said they had been bullied. It also found that some recruits were "berated" by their instructors for seeking help.