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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 14:47 GMT
Families lobby for Deepcut inquiry
Deepcut barracks in Surrey
The Army says it will review how new recruits are treated
The families of four soldiers who died in disputed circumstances at Deepcut Army barracks in Surrey have joined together in London to call for a public inquiry.

They reject suggestions that the four young soldiers committed suicide using their own rifles, and have accused the Army of a cover-up.

Police are now investigating the deaths of Geoff Gray, 17, from east London; James Collinson 17, from Perth, Scotland; Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, north Wales, and Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, at the Royal Logistics Corps HQ.

The families lobbied Westminster on Tuesday, joined by other parents whose children died while serving in the Army in a non-combat situation.

Private Geoff Gray
Geoff Gray died from two gunshot wounds

On Monday, the Ministry of Defence said it would carry out an "in-depth reappraisal" of training procedures in the armed forces.

The review will look at whether the training of recruits is too harsh and whether there is too much scope for bullying and sexual harassment.

It is unlikely directly to address the Deepcut deaths, but is the first sign the MoD has been feeling the heat on the issue, BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan said.

The review is expected to take about two months.


This is not about grieving, it's about justice

Lembit Opik MP

One of the parents at Westminster was Jan Manship-Milligan, whose son Alfie was shot dead on 6 April, 1992, in Osnabruck, Germany.

She said the MoD was about to face "the most devastating weapon you will ever encounter - a parent's love".

"You (the MoD) failed your country with your deceit and your lies," she said.

"But your biggest shame must be the pain you have inflicted on we, their families.

"By branding our children with the label 'suicide', you are content to let people believe that we did not love them enough to keep them. And they did not love us enough to stay."

Accompanying the parents was Liberal Democrats MP Lembit Opik.

'Bullying'

He said: "This is not about grieving, it's about justice. It will be a test of Parliament that this justice is delivered."

Before the parents met, Brigadier Nick Cottam, director of personnel services for the Army, said the service was well aware there was a problem.

"We need to look very carefully not just at how we're looking after our soldiers in training, but how we can better maintain the trust of the families when things have gone wrong," he BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

Pte James Collinson
James Collinson's body was exhumed this month

Private Gray's father, also called Geoff, said on the BBC's Breakfast News on Tuesday that the regime had to change.

"I agree that the first session of training in the Army has to be tough, we don't want a weak Army.

"But once they've passed through the first 12 weeks that regime of hardness should be dropped a level.

"It shouldn't be increased to a state where we maybe having NCOs bullying privates and lower ranks."

Private James Collinson died from gunshot wounds earlier this year.

Hard evidence

Pressure from his parents, Jim and Yvonne, led to the exhumation of his body earlier this month for a second post-mortem examination.

Geoff Gray died at the base last year, while Sean Benton and Cheryl James died in 1995. The police reopened the investigation into all four deaths after pressure from the parents.

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

  • From 1990 to May 2002, 1,748 people have died from non-natural causes in and around military property.
  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Fergus Walsh
    "The Deepcut deaths are profoundly disturbing"
    Jim and Yvonne Collinson
    "No one will convince us our son became suicidal in a short space of time"
    Jenny Shipley, whose son David Shipley died just
    days after leaving Deepcut

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