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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 14:31 GMT
Deepcut letter 'had big message'
Private Sean Benton
Private Sean Benton was found with bullet wounds to the chest
The father of a soldier found shot dead at Deepcut barracks in 1995 has talked about the last time he saw his son.

Harry Benton spoke out as the final Deepcut inquest ended, saying that he had not realised how unhappy Sean was.

Speaking at the family home in Sussex, he said the 20-year-old seemed tired, withdrawn and "not his normal self" when he saw him for the last time.

He said his son's last letter contained "a big message, saying don't let things get you down, stick up for yourself".

Mr Benton spoke to BBC South East following the inquest into the death of another soldier who died of gunshot wounds, Pte James Collinson.

On Friday a jury returned an open verdict into Pte Collinson's death.

Mr Benton said his son had been outgoing, bubbly, popular and a keen footballer.

Telephone incident

He said his son grew up with an uncle and two grandfathers serving in the armed forces and when Sean passed out after completing army training he thought he had coped with "the hardest bit".

But on the last day he saw his son in May 1995, when the family attended a football tournament, he said Sean "wasn't his normal self".

He said: "He was seeing a few of his mates. He did his normal thing. Then all of a sudden, he asked me to bring him back home.

The four Deepcut victims
Clockwise from top left: Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James

"I noticed he was very tired and withdrawn. He didn't speak a lot."

Mr Benton said Sean had lost weight and seemed "under-nourished", although he had attributed this to his army fitness regime.

And he said he heard little about life at Deepcut, but he and his wife had witnessed an incident on the telephone when Sean was talking with his mother.

Mr Benton said: "We heard a corporal or whatever saying 'what are you doing Benton, what the hell are you doing, shit'.

Army 'still the best'

"I said 'why don't you tell him to mind his own business' and he said 'no, you can't do that dad'."

He said he heard from ex-soldiers that if one team member fell behind, others would pick on them.

"You're there to beat each other in the army - it's all about winning," he said.

Deepcut barracks
The Deepcut four died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002

Mr Benton said he disagreed with claims made by the army that Sean had not met expected fitness levels and said: "He would have made a good soldier given the chance."

He said that more than 10 years after his son died, it was "like something ripping from your stomach".

The young soldier was found dead with five gunshot wounds while on guard at a perimeter fence.

The army said he committed suicide, and an inquest recorded a suicide verdict.

Mr Benton said he didn't "knock the army" which he still believed was "the best in the world".

And he said if he had realised how unhappy his son was, he would have told him to leave and not worry about it.

Watch extracts from the exclusive interview

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