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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Army four 'not bullied to death'
The four Deepcut victims
(Clockwise from top left):
Sean Benton, 20, Hastings, East Sussex
James Collinson, 17, Perth
Geoff Gray, 17, Seaham, Co Durham
Cheryl James, 18, Llangollen, Denbighshire
At least three of four recruits who died at Deepcut army barracks probably killed themselves although none was "bullied to death", a report has said.

But Nicholas Blake QC's review found "clear evidence of foul abuse" and a failure to identify potential risks.

The report rejected calls for a public inquiry but recommended an independent Armed Forces ombudsman be appointed to deal with complaints from soldiers.

Relatives of those who died said their fight for a public inquiry would go on.

"Our children signed to serve the country. It's time the country served them," they said in a joint statement.

Recruits Sean Benton, 20, of Hastings, East Sussex; James Collinson, 17, of Perth; Geoff Gray, 17, of Seaham, Co Durham, and Cheryl James, 18, Llangollen, Denbighshire, died of bullet wounds at the Surrey training base in separate incidents between 1995 and 2002.

Slaps and punches; throwing a cup towards a terrified trainee; riding a bicycle over trainees considered overweight
Nicholas Blake QC

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Mr Blake told a news conference the Army would be doing "real damage to itself" if it did not accept the recommendation to create an ombudsman.

He said a refusal could open up the possibility of the need for a public inquiry.

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

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

The inquest jury returned an open verdict on his death earlier this month.

'Foul abuse'

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

Mr Blake said those who had complained appeared to have had "little confidence that the system could or would address their grievances".

"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 said he had decided to recommend the creation of an ombudsman to oversee complaints because there was "clear evidence of foul abuse of trainees".

One is afraid to even speculate what would have been brought out if Mr Blake had been allowed to test the evidence
Families' barrister John Cooper

"Slaps and punches; throwing a cup towards a terrified trainee; riding a bicycle over trainees considered overweight," he told a news conference.

"Although the criminal law in both the military and civilian life understandably requires high standards of proof, I am concerned that appropriate measures to test this evidence and to set acceptable standards of conduct by instructors were not taken at the time," he said.

Mr Blake also found a policy of frequently assigning unsupervised trainees to guard duty at Deepcut, afforded the "opportunity for self-infliction".

In a Commons statement Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told MPs the review had found a number of factors that may have contributed to the soldiers' unhappiness and may have made them more susceptible to self-harm.

Nicholas Blake QC
Mr Blake's review was launched in December 2004

"The review considers that although the Army did not cause any of the deaths, there were institutional failures to identify potential sources of risk and to subsequently address them."

Mr Ingram said the Army would now examine the report's findings to see if any action should be taken for "professional misconduct or negligence".

Any evidence suggesting a disciplinary offence would be referred to the Royal Military Police, he said.

Diane Gray, whose son Geoff died at Deepcut in 2001, said she was "devastated" a public inquiry had not been recommended.

"Nicholas Blake didn't have the authority to subpoena people to come forward. We need a public inquiry where people are...forced to answer the questions," she said.

Des James, the father of recruit Cheryl, said he was dismayed at Mr Blake's findings as "up to the last minute [we felt] that he would have been calling for a public inquiry."

"It turned out that in the end he offered the MoD an exit route by the introduction of an independent ombudsman.

"He made it very clear that if that didn't happen, the alternative was a public inquiry, so I guess we have to wait and see," Mr James said.

Barrister John Cooper, representing the families of two of the dead soldiers, said he would not accept defeat on calls for a public inquiry.

"There has been no forensic examination of these papers: the lawyers have not been allowed to check or to challenge.

"One is afraid to even speculate what would have been brought out if Mr Blake had been allowed to test the evidence," he said.

Statement from the Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram

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