Parents of Deepcut victims demand that officers testify

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The Independent Online

The families of three army recruits who died at the Deepcut barracks demanded yesterday that two senior officers who ran the base at the time of the deaths should face public questioning about their roles.

The families of three army recruits who died at the Deepcut barracks demanded yesterday that two senior officers who ran the base at the time of the deaths should face public questioning about their roles.

They made a formal request for MPs investigating the Ministry of Defence to summon Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel Barrie Josling, who was in charge of the base when Cheryl James died, and Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Laden, who ran the training camp when Geoff Gray and James Colinson lost their lives.

Ministers have announced a fresh review of allegations of abuse and bullying at the barracks in Surrey but stopped short of the full public inquiry demanded by families and MPs.

Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, promised the review on Tuesday after a leaked memorandum from Surrey Police detailed 173 allegations of abuse, including nine claims of rape at the base.

But the families repeated their calls yesterday for a full public inquiry into the allegations. In stormy scenes, they were rebuked by the chairman of the all-party Commons Defence Select Committee after criticising the MPs for failing to investigate the specific circumstances of their children's deaths. Bruce George told the parents: "If it was any other group criticising our methodology, I would have thrown them out."

The MPs were forced repeatedly to defend their inquiry into the Ministry of Defence's duty of care to recruits. The committee is not examining specific deaths or allegations against individuals.

Mr George said: "This is probably consuming more time ... at a time when there are many, many, many, many very serious issues that the committee should be addressing.

"We're taking half of our time or more in wondering and agonising what happened to your kids. We're turning down requests to do inquiries because we feel we have an obligation to your kids and kids who have not been well treated in the armed forces."

Des James, whose daughter Cheryl died from a single bullet wound to the head in 1995, insisted he wanted an inquiry into the Deepcut death. "They have drawn this far too wide," he said. He told the committee it was taking "a very one-sided view" by not calling the officers commanding the base at the time the recruits died.

Pte James was one of four recruits to die in disputed circumstances at the barracks between 1995 and 2002. The others were Geoff Gray, 17, from Hackney, east London, Sean Benton, 20, of Hastings, East Sussex and James Collinson, 17, from Perth.

During a harrowing two-and-a-half hour session, MPs heard claims that abuses were still continuing at the base. Geoff Gray's mother, Diane, told the committee she had received an e-mail from a serving sergeant who had been raped as a 16-year-old when he joined the Army.

She told the committee: "He said 'Don't for one minute think it has gone away. It is still happening today'."

All three families said their children had been happy before entering the Deepcut base but were hugely critical of the military investigations into their deaths and of the care shown by the Army to their families.

They complained that documents and crucial evidence about the cases had been lost.

In a submission to the committee Mrs Gray and her husband identified 25 "systemic" failings at the base and made 32 proposals for reform. They warned: "We have spent two and a half years trying to find out how our son lost his life. Army and police failed to provide an effective investigation. Documents were destroyed; examination of forensic evidence not carried out. Our wishes have been ignored; we have been misinformed and misled."

Earlier, families of soldiers who died while training at Catterick barracks in North Yorkshire, told the committee they had evidence of continuing abuse at the base.

Lynn Farr, whose son Daniel, 18, died in hospital after contracting pneumonia at the barracks said she has received a series of complaints from other soldiers, including one who had to have a plate fitted after his jaw was broken by a corporal while on guard duty.

Another recruit was allegedly kicked in the head by a group of six soldiers after being accused by the troops of urinating on his bedding.

Ms Farr was joined by three other women whose children also died at Catterick in disputed circumstances.

William Beckley-Lines, aged 22, died after completing a two-mile run in 1998. Pte Alan Sharples, 20, was found shot in the head in 2000. Fusilier Mark Murray aged 18, was found with a gunshot wound to the head in lavatory blocks on a shooting range in 1996.