|You are in: Programmes: Panorama|
Fear and violence at Deepcut
One of Britain's most notorious army training camps is dominated by fear, violence and sexual harassment, it has been claimed.
An investigation by BBC One's Panorama programme has uncovered a climate of fear at The Princess Royal Barracks at Deepcut in Surrey.
The barracks is home to 400 young soldiers who have just completed their basic training, but it is better known as the place where four recruits have died in mysterious circumstances in recent years.
The programme alleges that fresh faced recruits found themselves at a camp in which intimidation, beatings and bullying were commonplace.
Private Sean Benton was found dead in July 1995. He had five bullet wounds and an army rifle lay nearby. He told his parents he was sorry that he had failed as a soldier and let them down.
The Army quickly came to the conclusion of suicide, but it has never admitted to a problem with bullying at Deepcut.
However, several recruits, who served at the same time as Sean Benton, tell a different story.
Confidential army documents obtained by Panorama also reveal that there were five more suicide attempts at Deepcut between June and November 1995.
Terri Lewis, a Lance Corporal at the camp was just one of the new recruits who experienced the problems at Deepcut.
She said: "The bullying at Deepcut was rife, the reason I say that is because straight away as soon as I was there it was evident that certain sergeants, certain corporals, were abusing their power."
'Battered and bruised'
Private Trevor Hunter told the programme: "You could see physical marks on the soldiers that could tell me that something was going on. Soldiers were that scared that they would never tell you what happened."
One of Sean Benton's friends at the base, Glynn Boswell backed up this claim, saying: "If every bullying incident was reported you'd have something along the lines of the Britannica volume.
"But you can 't report it. You could be reporting it to the person who was actually doing it."
The bullying and beatings were rife - and Private Benton seemed to be singled out for special treatment. Colleagues in the camp remember seeing him battered and bruised.
Trevor Hunter added: "He was thrown out of a second floor window to land on the grass below. He never ever told me who it was but he did say that an NCO had done it."
One sergeant in particular seems to have had it in for Sean Benton. That man is Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan.
Lance Corporal Terri Lewis claims that Sean tried to report the incident, a serious assault, but she was told to "ignore it" by a sergeant as he probably "deserved it".
But Private Sean Benton was not the only recruit to be on the receiving end of Sgt Gavaghan's bullying.
Trevor Hunter described one attack which took place while he was writing a letter home to his parents.
He said he was thrown over a table, thrown up against a locker and then punched and beaten whilst on the floor.
In a cruel twist of fate, Sgt Gavaghan was also the man who spent the night with Sean the night before he died.
Lance Corporal Terri Lewis finds this particularly galling.
She said: "He was the main...person behind the bullying, the mistreatment, that Sean received during his whole stay at Deepcut. I certainly 100 per cent believe that Sean was totally driven to committing suicide."
The culture of Deepcut has also been blamed for the death of Private Cheryl James, another of the four soldiers who were found dead at the base.
She was found dead just four months after Sean Benton, in November 1995. She had been left alone with an armed weapon - itself a breach of army regulations.
The coroner returned an open verdict, but a secret Army board decided she had committed suicide - and that there was no evidence to suggest she had been "mistreated in any way".
Not a problem
But that is not the way Lance Corporal Terri Lewis, remembers things.
She said: "There were many times she was crying on the block, talking to her friends. I was aware that a certain sergeant (not Sgt Gavaghan), who I know only too well, took an extremely strong liking to Cheryl and made her life hell."
"He made a sexual advance towards her. Obviously she did not respond to it...but it visibly and clearly shook the girl up. Not long after she took her life."
However, despite this evidence, the army still refuses to accept that there was a problem at Deepcut Barracks at the time.
Brigadier Nick Cottam, director of personnel service for the Army said that while he accepted there were individual cases, he did not think there was a problem on a large scale.
He added that the army was very clear over the issue of bullying, pointing out that instructors were trained to know that there was "an enormous difference between the physical and mental pressures of coming into the army and any sort of bullying of the weakest members of the team."
He said the Army had nothing to hide and that it would be in the interests of the army to learn lessons from errors that have been made.
What he couldn't accept was the assumption that there is a " general culture of bullying in this army."
Top Panorama stories now:
Links to more Panorama stories are at the foot of the page.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy