Police call for inquiry into Army bullying after Deepcut deaths

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A long-awaited police report into the violent deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut barracks yesterday recommended a wider inquiry into the intimidation and harassment which drive vulnerable recruits to commit suicide.

The investigation by the Surrey force calls for a new system of accountability for and supervision of the treatment of entrants to the forces, and describes bullying at the camp in Surrey as being "in sufficient quantities to raise concern".

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee said yesterday that it would hold an inquiry into recruit training.

Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, told the Commons that the Government would consider what form a wider investigation might take, but that a public inquiry would not serve any useful purpose.

The families of the dead privates - Sean Benton, 20, Cheryl James, 18, Geoff Gray and James Collinson, both 17 - have repeatedly called for a public inquiry. Kevin McNamara, a Labour MP who has campaigned for the families, described the report as "devastating". A "broader inquiry", he said, was a "public inquiry by any other name".

The police found that between 1991 and 2001 there were 75 deaths in the Army involving firearms in non-conflict situations, of which 60 had led to suicides or open verdicts at inquests. The report concluded that a broader inquiry, extending beyond Deepcut into the armed forces, could identify "more important lessons and safeguards to help reduce risks in the Army... Such an inquiry would have the capacity to reveal more information about why young soldiers, including trainees, are particularly vulnerable to undetermined deaths, suicide and self-harm."

When Surrey Police asked the Army in 2003 for details of self-harm by recruits at Deepcut, they were told that no reliable records could be provided, according to the report. However, a study of guardroom logs showed 39 such incidents, a figure regarded as "only half of the true level".

The investigation details individual acts of harassment which, it said, could be subjected to further investigation in the future. In one instance, a young female soldier had woken during the night to find a corporal abusing her. When she complained to a supervisor, the matter was " laughed off as a joke".

Mr Ingram said: "I understand that the four tragic deaths at Deepcut are matters that we have to attend to and the Surrey Police carried out a very intensive investigation. They interviewed 900 people and took 1,300 witness statements. That is such a comprehensive investigation, I don't know what a public inquiry would elicit."

Des James, the father of Pte Cheryl James, said: "I'm not particularly bothered about the House of Commons Select Committee. We mustn't allow it to become a substitute for the real thing. I think the report is extremely thorough and well put together. But it gives me absolutely no satisfaction to say, 'I told you so.' I have been banging on since the mid-90s about the culture of intimidation and bullying in the Army - and now this has backed that up."

Jim Collinson, the father of Pte James Collinson, said: "Both the Army and Surrey Police failed in their duty of care to their young soldiers. They failed to give us a proper investigation right from the beginning. Vital forensic evidence was lost. If you do not get the start of the investigation right, you'll not get the end right."