Soldier 'fell victim to sexual bullying'

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The Independent Online

Police have reopened inquiries into the deaths of two soldiers after claims that a corporal sexually harassed one of the victims.

The decision adds to questions about a culture of bullying at Deepcut barracks in Surrey. Police launched a separate investigation in May into the deaths of two other soldiers at the base.

Last week, amid mounting pressure for a public inquiry, the Commons Defence Select Committee announced that it would hold its own hearings into all four deaths, which have been dismissed as suicide by the Army.

Concerns about the culture at Deepcut, a Royal Logistics Corps base near Farnborough, deepened after The Independent on Sunday disclosed two weeks ago that there had been 28 courts martial for violent conduct at the barracks since 1995.

The latest police initiative comes after the parents of Private Cheryl James, from Llangollen, Wales, revealed she had allegedly been forced into a sexual relationship by a corporal before she was found dead in November 1995.

Private James, 18, was found in woods with her rifle beside her and a bullet wound to her head five months after the body of Private Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found with five gunshot wounds to his chest. Despite the Army's claims of suicide, the coroner recorded an open verdict into her death.

Her father, Des James, said yesterday that he was prepared to believe his daughter had killed herself, but added: "If that was the case, there must be some very good reasons. I believe there was a culture of quite sinister bullying."

This behaviour, he said, was being "covered up" by senior officers.

In May, Surrey police announced they would investigate the deaths of Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Hackney, London, in September last year and Private James Collison, 17, from Perth, in March.