Deepcut report uncovers 'disturbing allegations'

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An independent inquiry into the deaths of four young Army recruits at the Deepcut Army Barracks has uncovered a "disturbing catalogue of allegations of misconduct", Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said today.

Mr Ingram told MPs in a Commons statement that the review by human rights lawyer Nicholas Blake had found no evidence that any of the trainees had been "bullied to death".

But he said that some trainees at the base had suffered "harassment, discrimination and oppressive behaviour".

The Army authorities will now examine the report's findings to see if any action should be taken for "professional misconduct or negligence" , said Mr Ingram.

Mr Ingram said that in the case of three of the recruits - Sean Benton, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray - Mr Blake had accepted "on the balance of probabilities" that the deaths were self-inflicted.

In the case of the fourth recruit, James Collinson, Mr Blake did not reach any conclusion in the light of a recent coroner's inquiry.

Mr Blake rejected a call by the families of the recruits for a full public inquiry - a finding endorsed by Mr Ingram.

However Mr Blake did criticise the practice of assigning recruits to guard duty, unsupervised by more senior soldiers.

He also highlighted "weaknesses with regard to the appropriate care" of young recruits under the age of 18.

Mr Ingram said that the report identified areas in the training environment which required improvement - particularly during the period between 1995 and 2002 when the deaths occurred.

"It cites examples of inappropriate behaviour that should not have taken place," the minister said.

"It also identifies areas where we can, and should, improve the way we manage the young people for who we are responsible, and we accept those observations."

Mr Ingram said that the Ministry of Defence would now be looking at the 34 detailed recommendations made in the report to see how they could be taken forward to address the weaknesses identified as quickly as possible

In his list of recommendations, Mr Blake called for the establishment of an independent Armed Forces ombudsman who could deal with complaints from young soldiers.

Mr Ingram acknowledged that bullying and harassment could never be fully eliminated in the Armed Forces.

He added however: "It is essential that we establish a non-permissive environment for bullies and bullying."

In his report, Mr Blake said that there was a case for restricting recruitment into the Army to over 18 year-olds.

He found that in the cases of Cheryl James and Geoff Gray frequent armed guard duties in remote locations had "afforded them opportunity for self-harm".

"In both cases, the frequency of guard duty in the weeks before their deaths may have contributed to their unhappiness and, combined with other personal factors, may have made them more susceptible to self-harm," the report said.

In the case of Sean Benton, "disciplinary penalties, informal sanctions (including extra guard duties), and possible restrictions on weekend home leave added to the factors that made him unhappy".