Deaths at Deepcut barracks could be linked, admits Hain

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A Cabinet minister has said the deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut army barracks could be linked. His comments have further fuelled demands for a full public inquiry.

A Cabinet minister has said the deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut army barracks could be linked. His comments have further fuelled demands for a full public inquiry.

Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales, said the deaths were "too many to be a coincidence". However, the Government turned down demands for a public inquiry last week but ordered a review of extensive allegations of bullying and sexual abuse of soldiers at Deepcut.

Ministers are expected to name a senior law lord who will lead an investigation into allegations uncovered by Surrey police - 173 cases of abuse at Deepcut in the three years of the suicides: 1995, 2001 and 2002.

Speaking at a lunch in Westminster, Mr Hain said: ""I found the whole Deepcut story deeply disturbing. Some of the allegations - and they are as yet allegations - are horrifying and I hope the investigation will really pull the drains up as to what's been going on. I have thought for a while that the number of deaths are too many to be a coincidence."

Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, rejected the calls for an inquiry and insisted that there was no hard evidence of a systemic problem of abuse of soldiers in Britain's army training camps.

In fact, Mr Hain also backed his government colleagues in rejecting calls for a full public inquiry, including demands by the parents of one of the Welsh soldiers who died at Deepcut. The Welsh Secretary said a full-scale public inquiry would take too long and be too costly.

Sean Benton, 20, of East Sussex; Geoff Gray, 17, of Durham; James Collinson, 17, of Perth and Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, all died from gunshot wounds at the Surrey training base. Private James died from a single gunshot wound while on guard duty in November 1995. Her father, Des James, said the Welsh Secretary's remarks were "pretty strong" but he expressed disappointment that Mr Hain was not prepared to support a full inquiry into the deaths at the barracks.

"We have got a review but we don't really know what that means," said Mr James. He said Mr Ingram was forced into making an emergency statement after the leaking of the findings by Surrey Police.

Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, who is campaigning for an inquiry, said Mr Hain's remarks were "highly significant" and increased the momentum for an inquiry.

He said: "That this issue is now attracting public comment from a senior member of the Government shows what I and others have predicted, that all the momentum is towards an inquiry. Until then, the Deepcut campaign will keep growing in public profile and public pressure."

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