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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Commissioner plan after Deepcut
THE DEAD SOLDIERS
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
Ministers plan to create an independent Service Complaints Commissioner following the deaths of four recruits at Deepcut Army barracks.

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said the commissioner would be able to accept complaints directly from service personnel or family members.

But the commissioner would not be able to institute legal action, he told MPs.

He was outlining the government's response to Nicholas Blake QC's review into the deaths, published in March.

'Vulnerabilities'

The review concluded that three out of the four recruits - Privates Sean Benton, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray - probably killed themselves and had not been "bullied to death".

But he found "institutional failures" to identify potential risks.

We can't allow the problems of the past to occur
Adam Ingram
Armed Forces Minister

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

In a statement to MPs, Mr Ingram conceded that "in some practical respects" the government's proposed commissioner role was "different from that proposed in the Deepcut Review".

But he stressed that there is "no difference between the government and Mr Blake over the fundamental intent, which is to promote the effective operation of existing military proceedings".

He said the government accepted "the great majority" of the Blake review's 34 recommendations.

In particular he agreed with its concerns that the needs and "vulnerabilities" of service personnel under the age of 18 had to be recognised.

'No guarantees'

He said many young people may not have the confidence to make a complaint if there was something going on that they thought was "being brushed over".

However, an independent commissioner could look to see if a pattern of problems was emerging and "he would be on to that very quickly".

If someone tried to block his investigation, the commissioner would have access to ministers, he said.

"We can't allow the problems of the past to occur," he said, although he warned that there was no guarantee "that sad incidences won't happen".

But Tory shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said new recruits should be subject to a full assessment of their past medical histories.

Loaded guns

He said two of the four dead had previous episodes of self-harm before recruitment, another had harmed themselves while in the Army and another was about to be forced to leave the Army against his will.

"These vulnerable individuals were not only given loaded guns but put on solitary guard duty that was remote in its location," he said.

"They were given both means and opportunity and it represented, as the minister said, a failure of duty of care."

Nick Harvey, for the Liberal Democrats, said his party needed to hear more about the commissioner's appointment and what powers he would have.

The new role is likely to be included in amendments to the Armed Forces Bill.

Public inquiry possible?

Mr Ingram said the proposal marked "a watershed in how our servicemen and women are treated".

He also backed a suggestion that the families of Ptes Benton, James and Gray be provided with copies of Surrey Police reports to decide whether to apply to the High Court to overturn the previous inquest into their child's death.

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

In the case of a fourth recruit, Pte James Collinson, 17, of Perth, found shot dead in September 2001, he offered no conclusion, but said there was no evidence of foul play in that death either.

An inquest jury returned an open verdict on his death in March.

Mr Blake said refusal to create an ombudsman could open up the possibility of the need for a public inquiry.

'Self-inflicted' deaths

He said that post was needed to oversee complaints because there was "clear evidence of foul abuse of trainees".

"Slaps and punches; throwing a cup towards a terrified trainee; riding a bicycle over trainees considered overweight," he said, following publication of his report.

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

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




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Adam Ingram's statement on the commissioner plan



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