Private Sean Benton inquest WILL examine evidence of bullying at Deepcut barracks

20 September 2017

A coroner has today ruled that the fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton in 1995 will examine wider allegations of bullying and abuse at Deepcut barracks.

His Honour Judge Peter Rook QC announced at a pre-inquest review at Woking Coroner’s Court that evidence relating to the alleged bullying of other recruits will be heard as part of the investigation into whether Sean himself suffered abuse himself in the months before his death.

Many people have stated publicly and to Sean’s family that they believe he endured vicious and prolonged physical and psychological bullying at the barracks.

The Coroner ruled at a previous pre-inquest hearing that the case engages Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – meaning there will be a full investigation into Sean’s death and the wider environment in which he lived at Deepcut.

Sean, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest on 9 June 1995 – shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army. He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002. [1]

His death was followed by an internal Army investigation which his family fear was rushed and inadequate. They went on to spend more than 20 years fighting for the thorough inquest they and their son deserved.

Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015. This was granted in October 2016.

The application was made possible only after Sean’s late mother Linda Benton used the Human Rights Act to access vast amounts of evidence held by Surrey Police about his death. Linda died in May 2015, having never discovered the truth about her son’s death.

Sean’s sister, Tracy Lewis, said: “It won’t be easy to listen to people give evidence about bullying and abuse – but it’s so important to us to learn the truth about the toxic environment we fear Sean lived in. It’s what our mum fought for 20 years for.

“We’re grateful that the Coroner has decided to allow a wider range of allegations to be heard than just those affecting Sean directly, and are hopeful we will find answers to the questions we’ve been asking for so long.”

Emma Norton, Liberty’s Head of Casework and solicitor to the family, said: “The Coroner’s decision is very welcome and we hope it will enable us to get a clearer picture of the reality of life at Deepcut camp.

“It's enormously important for the family, the public and the British Army that all these matters are properly and independently investigated.”

A fresh inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James, who also died at Deepcut in 1995, last year uncovered an appalling culture at the barracks – and led the Ministry of Defence to admit a series of failings. It revealed there was a lack of supervision for trainee soldiers, unsupervised access to alcohol, including for under 18s, a lack of formal welfare policy and no support for young people, and a highly sexualised environment.

Background

Sean’s death was immediately investigated by the Army’s internal police force, the Royal Military Police, rather than by civilian police.

His family estimate the initial inquest – which took place a month later – lasted less than two hours. It heard evidence from just six people.

Sean’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought or given about his experiences at Deepcut. The Coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

As with the other Deepcut deaths, a criminal investigation carried out by Surrey Police in 2002 and 2003 concluded there was no evidence of third-party involvement. The families were told very little about what had happened and were not given access to the evidence uncovered by police.

In 2012, Liberty – acting on behalf of Sean’s mother Linda – used the Human Rights Act to insist Surrey Police give her access to all evidence held by the force about her son and his death so they could apply for a fresh inquest. Surrey Police agreed to disclose all relevant materials – a process that finally finished in 2015.

ENDS

For all enquiries or interview requests for Sean’s family, please contact the Liberty press office: 0207 378 3656 / 07973 831 128 / pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk

Notes

  1. Private Sean Benton (20) died on 9 June 1995. Private Cheryl James (18) died on 27 November 1995. Private Geoff Gray (17) died on 17 September 2001. Private James Collinson (17) died on 23 March 2002.
  2. A further pre-inquest hearing will be held on 17 November 2017 at Surrey Coroner’s Court, Woking.
  3. The inquest is due to begin on 24 January 2018 and is expected to last until Easter.