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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 September, 2003, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Families want army deaths inquiry
The four Deepcut victims
Clockwise from top left: Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James
Families of soldiers who have died at UK military bases have met in London to call for a public inquiry into the deaths.

Relatives of four privates who died at Deepcut barracks in Surrey joined about 10 other families of soldiers who have died in non-combat situations in the past nine years.

They, along with other families not at the meeting, are forming a pressure group to fight for "truth, justice and change".

Geoff Gray, whose 17-year-old son of the same name died at Deepcut in September 2001, said: "The common thread is that all these families feel they haven't been told the truth.

"We have heard stories here today of families who have lost sons and daughters whose deaths have been treated with an air of assumption.

"We are hoping to force the government's hand here.

THE FOUR SOLDIERS WHO DIED
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've been advised by lawyers that a public judicial inquiry, into the death of soldiers whose families want to work within this group, is feasible and realistic."

The four died of gunshot wounds at the barracks over a period of seven years. The Ministry of Defence said they had committed suicide, but the families have not accepted this.

A recent police investigation into the deaths uncovered "significant" material to pass to the coroner to decide whether new inquests should be held.

However, it found no evidence that could lead to murder prosecutions and the families have described the investigation as inadequate.

Labour MP Kevin McNamara and Frank Swann, an independent forensic expert who spent six weeks investigating the deaths, also joined the families' call for an inquiry.

And the Surrey police officers who carried out the investigation backed calls for a broader inquiry into the Deepcut deaths and untimely deaths in the Army in general.

'Army bullying'

Mr McNamara said the families were concerned about an "atmosphere of bullying" in the Army.

Mr Swann said: "I believe a judicial public inquiry is something that is directly needed in respect of the deaths, not just at Deepcut, but Catterick, Northern Ireland etc, that are alleged to be suicides."

This is about the ineptitude of authorities charged with the care of our children
Parents of Private Cheryl James
But Armed Forces Minister, Adam Ingram, said the government had already carried out its own review of military training procedures and there was currently no need for a further inquiry.

He said: "I don't minimise for one moment the fact that there have been four tragic deaths, but these deaths have taken place over seven years.

"During that time many many thousands of young recruits have gone through our training programme.

"If it was flawed and broken then we would not have a professional armed forces in this country."

75 'untimely deaths'

Des and Doreen James, the parents of Private Cheryl James, welcomed Surrey Police's support for an inquiry into Army deaths.

"This issue is not about Cheryl James. It is no longer about the four kids that have died at Deepcut, not about the 15 who have died at Catterick," Mr and Mrs James said.

A broader inquiry may make a further contribution to avoiding tragedies like those we have investigated at Deepcut
Surrey Police
"This is about the ineptitude of authorities charged with the care of our children, the obscene arrogance of an institution which refuses to move into the 21st century."

Surrey Police said that in the decade from 1991 to 2001 there were 75 "untimely deaths" in the Army, 60 of which had led to suicide or open verdicts.

"A broader inquiry may make a further contribution to avoiding tragedies like those we have investigated at Deepcut," said Surrey Deputy Chief Constable Bob Quick.

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 at Deepcut between 1995 and 2001.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"For all the families now involved in this campaign, there are still too many unanswered questions"



SEE ALSO:
Father condemns Deepcut inquiry
19 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Parents' anger at Deepcut inquiry
05 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Q&A: The Deepcut mystery
03 Sep 03  |  UK
New claims over Deepcut deaths
10 Aug 03  |  Wales


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