Deepcut: no hiding place

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The Independent Online

Too often, the demand for a full, independent public inquiry into almost anything is the easy and unthinking response of newspapers and opposition politicians, especially when the accusers are not wholly sure of their case. That emphatically does not apply to the regime at Deepcut army barracks between 1995 and 2002.

Too often, the demand for a full, independent public inquiry into almost anything is the easy and unthinking response of newspapers and opposition politicians, especially when the accusers are not wholly sure of their case. That emphatically does not apply to the regime at Deepcut army barracks between 1995 and 2002.

Indeed, the case for an inquiry is so overwhelming that the puzzle is what Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, hopes to gain by resisting it. Last week, he said there would be a "further review" by a "fully independent" person. That is simply not good enough. What is required is an investigation, not an armchair paper-reading exercise.

It was two and a half years ago that this newspaper first reported the concerns of their families that four young trainees who died at Deepcut had been bullied. The Army claimed that all four had committed suicide, despite the fact that two of them had been shot more than once. Since then, a horrifying picture has come into clear view of an institution out of control, in which bullying, sexual abuse and torture were rife. At each step, the authorities have sought to sweep evidence of a systematic failure under the carpet and to play down those pieces that could not be swept aside. Only yesterday, a new witness came forward to assert that trainees had been beaten, tormented and driven to suicide by instructors at Deepcut. So far, only one former instructor has been brought to justice - jailed two months ago for a series of sex attacks on trainees. But this is clearly not a case of a single bad man, or even a group of bad people. As Brian Cathcart speculates on page 22, the Army may be resisting an inquiry because it recognises that it might become its Stephen Lawrence experience.

All the more reason for pressing the Government to do the right thing. Recruits to the armed forces and their families need to be assured that military training does not require young people to be "toughened up" by gratuitous abuse and violence. Those attitudes seem to lie beneath the surface of the most serious crimes that undoubtedly were committed at Deepcut. They are not necessary today, if they ever were, to the creation of an effective fighting force. If an inquiry into Deepcut would force the Army into a long, traumatic and expensive rethinking of its culture and its rules, then let it begin at once.

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