Families outraged as Government refuses public inquiry into Deepcut

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The families of teenage soldiers who died at Deepcut barracks accused the Government of a cover-up last night after ministers refused to order a public inquiry, despite an overwhelming number of claims of bullying and abuse.

The families of teenage soldiers who died at Deepcut barracks accused the Government of a cover-up last night after ministers refused to order a public inquiry, despite an overwhelming number of claims of bullying and abuse.

Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, conceded yesterday that an independent review was needed after a leaked report revealed a catalogue of alleged sexual and violent abuse as well as degrading treatment inflicted on Army trainees but defied mounting calls for an inquiry.

"How much more evidence, how much more grief do they want before they are going to give us a public inquiry? Is it going to take another death at Deepcut?" said Jim Collinson yesterday. His 17-year-old son, Private James Collinson, was one of four young people to die of gunshot wounds at the barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002. "It is terrifying to think they are playing God with young ones' lives."

The day after details of a confidential report by Surrey Police exposed 173 allegations - including gang rape, bullying and racist assaults towards trainee soldiers - Mr Ingram made a statement before the Commons.

The parents of the four recruits said they waited with trepidation for the minister's statement only to be "absolutely gutted" that, once again, a public inquiry was not ordered. Instead Mr Ingram, insisting that "violence and intimidation" would not be tolerated, announced he would be appointing a "fully independent figure" to carry out a review.

Geoff Gray, who lost a 17-year-old son the year before Pte Collinson died, revealed that Mr Ingram, who spoke to his wife, Diane, by telephone afterwards in a "bland" conversation, refused to reveal how wide a remit this review would have.

The Independent learnt yesterday that a senior law lord is to be appointed to carry out the review. Evidence will not be taken in public hearings, and it is also unlikely to be taken under oath.

Despite calls for the review to cover other training camps - including Catterick, where there has been a death - the law lord's terms of reference will be tightly drawn to focus on allegations at Deepcut.

Mr Ingram said that if the review called for a further inquiry, "I will stand by that" though ministers said it was unlikely to be recommended.

Mr Gray said: "We have 200 MPs backing us. Amnesty International is backing us. Surrey Police called for a broader inquiry and I can't walk down the street without people telling me there should be a public inquiry. How much more do they want? I am at a loss as to what to do.

"It is a scandal on a national level ... I think this is a mixture of a cover-up and a cock-up."

With Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, visiting the Balkans, Mr Ingrams was left to face furious criticism from all sides, including his own. Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "If these allegations were made about a British Army camp holding Iraqi prisoners of war there would be worldwide condemnation. But this was a British Army training camp holding British Army trainees."

Controversy has plagued Royal Logistic Corps Headquarters at the Princess Royal Barracks since Private Geoff Gray from Durham, Pte Collinson, from Perth, Private Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, and Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, north Wales, were found dead. Their families have always insisted they did not kill themselves. Although Surrey Police found no evidence of foul play in its investigation, it did, however, condemn the Army's treatment of trainees.

Three sets of parents are due to give evidence before the Defence Select Committee today as part of its investigation into the duty of care regimes of all three armed services.

Mr Collinson said: "Today was the MoD's chance to do restore public confidence and they failed." The defence minister admitted there was a need to restore public trust in the training regime, and said he was concerned about the damage reporting allegations could do to recruitment. But he insisted that the deaths at Deepcut were isolated incidents. He said 12,000 recruits had been through Deepcut since 1995. "It is not a broken machine."

The Surrey Police report detailed 118 entries covering 173 allegations in 1995, 2001 and 2002 - when the four youngsters died. Recruits had complained of being urinated on, made to swim in a cesspool and being forced to parade naked or in their underwear. Mr Ingram said: "This document does not contain evidence. It contains some allegations, which have already been investigated, and other allegations, which are worthy of investigations, but have not yet been tested." Investigations to date have resulted in one known conviction and one case of gang rape is still being investigated by police.