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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 15:29 GMT
Lawyer in Deepcut deaths inquiry
Nicholas Blake
Mr Blake is prepared to talk to people in confidence
A human rights lawyer is to conduct an inquiry into the deaths of soldiers at the Deepcut Army barracks in Surrey, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

Defence Minister Adam Ingram said Nicholas Blake would start his inquiry into events at Deepcut "shortly".

Four soldiers died at the barracks from 1995 to 2002, with relatives refusing to accept the deaths were suicides.

The inquiry comes after a police investigation uncovered more than 100 claims of rape, racism and beatings.

'Public concern'

Mr Ingram said he was satisfied the MoD's response to the deaths had been "adequate and comprehensive" but said he accepted there should be another review held by a "fully independent figure".

Mr Blake is a QC who is based in the same Matrix chambers as the Prime Minister's wife Cherie Booth.

The soldiers who died at Deepcut
Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, East Sussex, 1995
Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, north Wales, 1995
Geoff Gray, 17, from Seaham, County Durham, 2001
James Collinson, 17, from Perth, Scotland, 2002

He was described by the MoD as a distinguished human rights lawyer with wide experience of civil liberties and criminal justice.

Mr Ingram said: "I expect him to complete his report in the first half of next year."

He added he was "well aware" the review might not satisfy people who had called for a public inquiry into the Deepcut deaths or into non-combat deaths in the armed forces.

But he said the review would concentrate on "the issue at the heart of current public concern" - the Deepcut deaths.

He said: "A review can analyse issues much more quickly than a public inquiry and would not interfere with other current investigations or proceedings.

Soldiers' families
The soldiers' families have never accepted suicide verdicts

"It is the right way to proceed and I would urge all those who may be sceptical of what the review can achieve to suspend their criticism and to lend it their full support."

Mr Blake said in a statement his review would be an independent evaluation of facts already uncovered rather than an inquiry seeking to find new material.

But he said: "It may be that fresh lines of inquiry will emerge from an analysis of the material.

"I hope the announcement of this independent review will encourage others who have relevant information to give to come forward if they have not already done so."

He said those who wanted to speak to him in confidence could do so, which he hoped would offer "greater flexibility" than a formal inquiry.

News of the review was welcomed by the Army, which said it would fully co-operate.

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