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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 17:36 GMT
Pressure grows for Deepcut probe
Private James Collinson
Pte James Collinson died from a single gunshot wound

A coroner has backed families' calls for a public inquiry into events surrounding the deaths of four soldiers at Deepcut army barracks in Surrey.

A jury returned an open verdict into the death of Pte James Collinson, 17, of Perth, who was shot in March 2002.

His family and those of the three other soldiers, from Hastings, Seaham and Llangollen, have called for an inquiry.

Coroner Michael Burgess said the MoD should not fear such a move. It said it would study the comments carefully.

Mr Burgess, coroner for Surrey, said: "My personal view is that the MoD should take whatever steps are necessary to restore public confidence in the recruitment and training of young soldiers whether at Deepcut or elsewhere.

Our question is what are they scared of? What are they frightened we will find out?
Jim Collinson

"I personally believe they have nothing to fear from an inquiry held in public where the various issues can be explored in greater depth."

The Collinson family's barrister John Cooper said the coroner's comments were "devastating" for those opposed to a public inquiry.

Pte Collinson's father Jim said: "Our question is what are they scared of? What are they frightened we will find out?

"This has been a great day for everyone that has been trying to get justice for our kids that died.

The four Deepcut victims

"There has got to be, for the sake of the kids that died there, a public inquiry."

Geoff Gray, whose son, also named Geoff, died at Deepcut, also welcomed the coroner's comments.

"After today we have taken a huge step forward.

"John Reid, the defence secretary, must listen to Mr Burgess."

Peter Wishart, the Collinson family's MP, said the verdict was the best the family could have hoped for.

"In rejecting a suicide verdict, the jury obviously believe the death of James Collinson was down to other forces and possibly other parties," he said.

The MoD said it would study the coroner's comments very carefully.

"Every soldier matters and the death of Private James Collinson saddens us all," said Maj Gen Andrew Graham, director general of the Army Training and Recruitment Agency.

"The MoD and the Army have co-operated fully and very openly with the police and the coroner in order to understand what happened on the night he died."

He said the training and welfare of troops who may be deployed within weeks of training was the army's "highest priority".

"The coroner has confirmed that he did not call for a public inquiry and the police investigation has found no evidence of either bullying or harassment.

"However, if anybody knows that this is not the case then they should inform the police immediately."

It is unlikely that we will ever be able to answer all the questions
Det Supt Brian Boxall

Mr Burgess said he would be writing to Mr Reid highlighting concerns on a number of issues including calling for possible improvements for the system of issuing weapons.

The inquest at Epsom heard that minutes before Pte Collinson's death he had borrowed an SA80 gun, which he was too young to carry under Deepcut rules that state a soldier must be seventeen and a half to be issued with a rifle.

Pte Collinson was found dead near the perimeter fence of the camp, where he had been on night guard duty.

His death sparked massive media focus on the camp, drawing attention to the deaths of the three other soldiers.

Pte Sean Benton, from Hastings, Pte Cheryl James, from Llangollen, and Pte Geoff Gray, from Seaham, died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002.

Earlier inquests recorded verdicts of suicide for Pte Benton and open verdicts in the cases of Ptes James and Gray.

Families of some of the four soldiers have spoken publicly about the possibility that their children may have been murdered or driven to suicide by what has been called a "culture of bullying".

Pte Collinson's inquest heard no evidence that he was bullied at Deepcut.

The findings of an independent review into the deaths are to be published by Nicholas Blake QC on 29 March.

Surrey Police, which has been criticised for its investigation into the four deaths, said the inquest showed the force conducted a full and thorough investigation into Pte Collinson's death.

'Thorough investigation'

Det Supt Brian Boxall said: "The deaths of James Collinson and three other young soldiers at the Princess Royal Barracks are tragic, particularly for their families and for everyone who knew them.

"It is unlikely that we will ever be able to answer all the questions they raise.

"However we have carried out a full and thorough investigation into the death of James Collinson and thorough reinvestigation into the other three deaths.

"There is no evidence of third-party involvement in any of the deaths.

"Devon and Cornwall Constabulary undertook an intensive two-year review of our reinvestigation and accepts that an appropriate range of hypotheses were tested by Surrey Police.

"They did not find any new lines of inquiry or evidence that we have missed."




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