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Last Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006, 15:57 GMT
Deepcut soldier 'borrowed weapon'
Private James Collinson
Pte James Collinson died from a single gunshot wound
A soldier on guard duty with Pte James Collinson on the night he died at the Deepcut army barracks has been giving evidence at the inquest into his death.

Pte Stacy McGrath said he was on the phone when Pte Collinson, 17, from Perth in Scotland, obtained the rifle which then apparently killed him.

Epsom Magistrates' Court heard he borrowed it from a third soldier.

Inquests were previously held into the deaths of three other Deepcut soldiers, from Sussex, Wales and County Durham.

Pte McGrath said he was told by Pte John Donnelly that Pte Collinson had borrowed his rifle during their guard duty on 23 March, 2002.

Pte McGrath said he was on the phone to his girlfriend - in breach of army rules - when it happened.

He said: "I was basically making the phone call facing not the direction of James and John, but facing the perimeter fence at the time".

When he returned he said Pte Collinson was not there having swapped roles with Pte Donnelly.

"He said, 'he has gone around the back for a cigarette and to patrol'."

The four Deepcut victims
Clockwise from top left: Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James

Pte McGrath said he then found out Pte Donnelly had taken Pte Collinson's torch and high-visibility vest, while handing over his weapon, despite the other soldier not being old enough to be issued with a rifle.

When a shot rang out some minutes later, Pte McGrath said "it occurred to me it sounded like a gun shot so I was a bit anxious".

He could not see anything on going to investigate, but Pte Donnelly then searched and found Pte Collinson's body.

"He said, 'man down, man down'," Pte McGrath said.

"He said he had been shot. I said 'has someone shot him?'.

"He said, 'No, it looks like he has shot himself'."

John Cooper, representing the Collinson family, accused Pte McGrath of lying about not seeing the exchange of the rifle, torch and jacket, asking him if he had in fact pulled the trigger.

The soldier said he did not shoot Pte Collinson, nor was he involved in causing his death in any other way.

Pte McGrath also said he did not believe anyone else pulled the trigger or forced Pte Collinson to do so.

The hearing continues.

It follows previous inquests into the deaths at the Surrey barracks of Pte Sean Benton, from Hastings, Pte Cheryl James, from Llangollen, and Pte Geoff Gray, from Seaham.


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