Deepcut barracks: Fresh inquest ordered into death of Private Sean Benton

The 20-year-old was found dead with five bullet wounds to the chest at the barracks in 1995

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The Independent Online

A judge has granted an appeal for a fresh inquest into the death of a young soldier at Deepcut barracks 21 years ago.

Private Sean Benton, from Hastings in East Sussex, was found dead with five bullet wounds to the chest in June 1995 while undergoing training at the base in Surrey.

The original inquest recorded a verdict of suicide but his twin brother, Tony Benton, and sister, Tracy Lewis, petitioned London’s High Court for a fresh hearing.

On Friday, Mr Justice Collins granted a consent order after Private Benton’s family used the Human Rights Act to access evidence held by Surrey Police. 

He said considerable fresh evidence had come to light that cast "some doubt" on the original finding and there was also material concerning the care given to Private Benton by the Army at the time.

The 20-year-old's family said the original inquest took less than two hours and heard evidence from just six people.

They said it failed to obtain Private Benton’s medical and mental health records and no evidence was sought or given about the allegations of severe bullying at Deepcut. 

Ms Lewis said: "Our family had just 20 years with Sean. It has taken us another 21 to secure the thorough, independent inquiry we should have seen immediately after his death. For that reason, our parents are not here with us to see this day.

"For two decades, our family has been tormented by questions about what Sean went through at Deepcut. If his death had been properly investigated in 1995, we would have been spared years of uncertainty and pain.

"It should be a source of huge shame to the Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police that our mother had to fight for so long - far longer than she should have had to - to force the authorities to answer basic questions. We look forward to finally discovering the truth."

Emma Norton, legal director of rights organisation Liberty and solicitor for Private Benton's family, said: "Just as with the Hillsborough families, the parents of Cheryl James and so many others, the Bentons' perfectly reasonable questions about their son's death were met with decades of stonewalling, silence and suspicion.

"Just as in those cases, it was only the Human Rights Act - the law our Government remains determined to repeal - that enabled the family to access information to which they had every right.

"Sean Benton was young and vulnerable. He deserved so much better. We are hopeful his family can now finally have their questions answered and that lessons are learnt so young recruits like Sean are better protected in future."

A date for the new inquest is yet to be set. 

The hearing into Private Benton’s death comes just months after a second inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James ruled she did killed herself in 1995 but the barracks had failed in their duty of care towards her. 

The father of the 18-year-old described the army barracks as “a toxic and horrible environment for a young women, and we are in no doubt that this would have had a terrible impact on those that were required to live there.”

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A photograph of 18-year-old Cheryl James who died in 1995 (PA)

Private James and Private James were two of four young recruits to die at the barracks between 1995 and 2002. 

A dossier of around 60 allegations of abuse was made in 1995 by Surrey Police was submitted to a 2006 investigation by the Ministry of Defence. 

In the documents, one 18-year-old described his time at Deepcut as “hell”.

Another female recruit, who was also 18, said she “knew of at least one female recruit having been raped at Deepcut”.