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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Deepcut deaths prompt rule change
Deepcut sign
Four soldiers died at the Deepcut Barracks
Police will take charge of investigations into the untimely deaths of soldiers under new rules prompted by four fatalities at an army base.

The move was recommended by the force investigating the incidents at the Deepcut Barracks in Surrey.

Under the guidance distributed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, forces are being encouraged to make a more thorough investigation of deaths at army camps.

Pte James Collinson
James Collinson's body was exhumed this month
Detective Chief Superintendent Craig Denholm said the new approach was one of the "lessons learned" from Deepcut - where he admitted mistakes had been made.

The families of four young squaddies who died at the barracks have challenged the army's explanation that they committed suicide.

Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth, died from gunshot wounds earlier this year.

Pressure from his parents, Jim and Yvonne, led to his body being exhumed earlier this month to carry out a second post-mortem examination.

Geoff Gray from Seaham in County Durham died at the base last year, while Sean Benton from Sussex, and Cheryl James, from north Wales, died in 1995.

Findings disputed

The army initially insisted the deaths of all four soldiers at the headquarters of the Royal Logistics Corps were suicides.

The families dispute the army's findings and allege that bullying at the camp had been covered up.

The police reopened the investigation into all four deaths after pressure from the parents.

Mr Denholm admitted mistakes had been made by police.

We've learnt that there needs to be absolute clarity

Detective Chief Superintendent Craig Denholm
He said officers had accepted the "assumptions" of suicide after discussions with the military police and a brief examination of the scene.

"Now the primacy for the initial investigation in an army camp rests with the police," he said.

"We've learnt that there needs to be absolute clarity."

In the past an army assessment of suicide would be taken on trust by police.

Police must now find hard evidence that deaths are suicides before handing responsibility back to the military.

Mr Denholm said the army was "supportive" of the move and a call to reconsider the appropriateness of giving lethal weapons to recruits of "tender years".

Information appeal

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said there had been a "clarification" of standing orders.

However, she said that the lead role of civilian forces had always been clear.

Mr Denholm also urged anyone with information on the deaths at Deepcut to come forward.

More than 600 people, mostly soldiers, have already been interviewed as part of the investigation.

Private Geoff Gray
Geoff Gray died from two gunshot wounds
Part of the inquiry is examining how the "regime" or "atmosphere" at the base may have contributed to the deaths.

An independent ballistics expert is being recruited to give a final verdict on whether the victims could have been murdered.

Any findings about how the soldiers died will be presented to the Crown Prosecution Service or the coroner.

Meanwhile, up to 40 families whose children died while serving in the army in a non-combat situation are set to lobby Westminster on 29 October.

They are pressing for a public inquiry into the deaths, which they do not think have been properly investigated.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The new investigation is beginning to produce results"

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