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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
No prosecutions over Deepcut
The four Deepcut victims
Clockwise from top left: Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James
No evidence has been found that could lead to prosecutions over the deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut army barracks, police have announced.

A 1m, 15-month inquiry has led to a crucial decision that police, not the military, will now lead investigations into unexplained deaths at army bases.

Surrey Police said their investigation had uncovered evidence which would be passed to the coroner, who will decide whether to hold new inquests into the deaths of three of the soldiers.

The families of the dead soldiers have refused to accept the army's theory that their children committed suicide using their own rifles, and have been calling for a public inquiry.

Private Geoff Gray, 17, died from two gunshot wounds to the head, which loved-ones insist means he could not have taken his own life.

Private Sean Benton, 20, died from five gunshot wounds to the chest with campaigners highlighting ballistics tests suggesting that he was shot four times from a distance and only once from close range.

The police report found there had been 75 "untimely deaths" involving firearms or munitions in the army between 1991 and 2001.

The families of the victims announced on Friday they are to launch of an organisation of families who have lost sons and daughters in similar circumstances in the military.

Yvonne Collinson, 37, whose son James died in March 2002, said they were not surprised about Friday's annoucement.

Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Seaham, Co Durham
Private Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings
Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth
Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen
"We have been trying to get our heads round it for a while that we will never know what happened because they got it wrong at the start in terms of forensic and ballistic evidence.

"They got the beginning wrong and they got the end wrong," she said.

The father of Private Gray, also called Geoff, demanded a "Hutton-style" inquiry to get to the truth.

The police evidence will be passed to Surrey coroner Michael Burgess who is holding an inquest into the death of Private James Collinson, the last of the four soldiers to die.

Mr Burgess will then decide whether there are grounds to support an application to the High Court for a new inquest into the deaths of Privates Sean Benton, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray.

The original inquests returned open verdicts on the deaths of Privates James and Gray, and one of suicide on Private Benton.

Suicide 'unlikely'

The four, who died between 1995 and 2002, were all new recruits, training at the Royal Logistics Corps' primary training base at the Princess Royal Barracks at Deepcut.

Private Gray, from Seaham in County Durham; Private Benton, from Hastings, East Sussex; Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth, Scotland and Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, north Wales, each died of gunshot injuries.

Last month an independent investigator, hired by the four families after a Ministry of Defence investigation said the deaths were suicides, concluded the fatal wounds were "highly unlikely" to have been self-inflicted.

Surrey Deputy Chief Constable Bob Quick said the inquiry had seen 900 witnesses and taken 1,500 statements.

It identified eight "key areas" of risk" in relation to potentially vulnerable trainee soldiers and made 27 recommendations to the army.

Among the recommendations was that the training of the Royal Military Police should be revised.

Bullying allegations

When asked whether the police findings suggested other individuals may have been involved in the deaths, the deputy chief constable said their investigation did not "point to any suspect or point directly to the hypothesis of murder."

But he added: "There are elements in the inquiry which certainly leave open that prospect."

Amid allegations of bullying at Deepcut, the families have campaigned for an independent public inquiry to ascertain all the facts and - if the suicide theories are true - to establish what it was about life at the barracks that might have driven them to kill themselves.

About a quarter of MPs have backed their calls, but the government had rejected the idea while the police investigation was ongoing.

The army held internal inquiries into the deaths of Privates Benton and James, and has said it would hold similar investigations on Privates Gray and Collinson once the police report has been published.

The soldiers' relatives say potentially vital evidence went missing and some claim police suspect some soldiers were not as forthcoming as they could have been.

The BBC's Paul Adams
"The four deaths at Deepcut may never be properly explained"

New claims over Deepcut deaths
10 Aug 03  |  Wales
Q&A: The Deepcut mystery
03 Sep 03  |  UK
Police cancel Deepcut meeting
08 Sep 03  |  England

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