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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
Q&A: Deepcut review
Nicholas Blake, QC
Nicholas Blake has called for service personnel to speak to the review
A deputy High Court judge has reviewed the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four young soldiers at the Deepcut army barracks, in Surrey, between 1995 and 2002.

The government says there is no need for a full public inquiry, but Nicholas Blake QC was asked to review the content of official investigations into the cases and make recommendations.

Why was there a review?

Several inquiries have been carried out into the deaths of the four army trainees at Deepcut; the police and military were involved in most of the investigations.

There has been pressure for an independent assessment of what happened. The parents of the four victims, backed by MPs and pressure groups, want a public inquiry, where all evidence can be examined openly, without fear of any cover-up.

Announcing the review in the wake of the final Surrey Police report, which highlighted shortcomings, particularly in the Army's training regime, Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram said he realised the nature of the new investigation would not satisfy those calling for a public inquiry.

But he said a review could "analyse issues much more quickly, and would not interfere with other current investigations or proceedings".

He urged all those wanting a public hearing to suspend their criticism and support the review.

Who is Nicholas Blake?

Announcing Mr Blake's appointment in December 2004, Mr Ingram described him as a distinguished human-rights lawyer with wide experience of civil liberties and criminal justice.

Mr Blake, who practises at Matrix chambers, where the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth, is also based, was appointed a deputy High Court judge in 2003.

The four Deepcut victims
Sean Benton, 20, Hastings, East Sussex
James Collinson, 17, Perth, Scotland
Geoff Gray, 17, Seaham, Co Durham
Cheryl James, 18, Llangollen, north Wales

His expertise includes immigration, asylum and European free-movement law.

What form did his review take?

It was not like a public inquiry, where witnesses may give evidence in public - or submit statements open to public scrutiny - and be questioned by representatives of interested parties.

Mr Blake focused on material already uncovered by investigators - largely what was already in the public domain. His team interviewed people in private.

He said he did not want to duplicate what had already been done elsewhere, and people who had already given statements to Surrey police did not need to repeat themselves to him.

But he appealed for service personnel past and present to provide information.

Mr Blake had no statutory powers to compel anyone to participate. Nor did he have the power to force any party to implement his recommendations.

What were Mr Blake's conclusions?

He did not call for a public inquiry - nor did he rule one out.

"The Army may have an interest in having a public inquiry, but it is not required to have one if it broadly accepts the conclusions and recommendations of this review," he said.

The review concluded that "on the balance of probabilities" the deaths of Privates Benton, James and Gray were self-inflicted.

In the case of Private Collinson, whose inquest had been taking place during the review, he offered no conclusion, but said there was no evidence of foul play in that death either.

The review found some recruits at the Surrey barracks had suffered "harassment, discrimination and oppressive behaviour".

"There was a reluctance by trainees to complain against NCOs; those who did complain about a senior NCO were vulnerable to reprisals and received an ineffective response by their immediate superiors," said the report.

Mr Blake recommended an ombudsman should be appointed to make sure complaints by soldiers were properly dealt with.

He also found that a policy of frequently assigning unsupervised trainees to guard duty at Deepcut gave opportunities for self-harm.

He called for safeguards on the recruitment and training of young soldiers. Training of 16 to 18 year olds should be "in a suitable environment with particular care taken of their welfare. Under 17s should be trained only with their own age group," he added.

How did the Ministry of Defence react?

Mr Ingram said that Mr Blake's observations on the ill-treatment at Deepcut and the reluctance of victims to complain were "important criticisms which will be addressed".

He agreed that guard duty as a punishment was one of the critical areas of the report. "This is a very potent point and it is under review."

On the proposed ombudsman, he said Mr Blake had made the recommendation and it was "only right that we consider it".

Mr Ingram said the MoD was looking at ways in which it could have a better assessment of instructors "who may put young people and others at risk".

Are the families of the soldiers who died satisfied?

No. All said they were disappointed that calls for a public inquiry had been turned down.

Diane Gray, whose son Geoff died at Deepcut in 2001, said she was "devastated" by the rejection. She said Mr Blake's review was no substitute for a public inquiry.

Mr Blake only had the "deeply flawed" police investigations to go on and could not subpoena witnesses, she said.

Private Gray's father, also named Geoff, confirmed that he would now be launching a legal battle to have a fresh inquest into his son's death.

He said: "We have applied to Surrey police to have full disclosure on Geoff's case... we believe that once we have got all the information on Geoff's death we can then go to judicial review."

Sean Benton's father Harry said he was disappointed at the rejection of a public inquiry.

But he added: "We have had 10 years of all this and I think the time has come where we draw a line under it all."

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