Deepcut report into death of four Army recruits reveals 'bullying and sexual abuse'
A REPORT on the deaths of four Army recruits at the Deepcut barracks in Surrey will this week reveal evidence of bullying and sexual abuse at the training camp, it was reported last night.
Up to 14 current and former soldiers will face criticism over the deaths between 1995 and 2002, which involved four privates including 17-year-old James Collinson from Perth.
The independent report into the long-running Deepcut affair, compiled by Nicholas Blake QC, a leading human rights barrister, for the Armed Forces Minister, will be published on Wednesday and made the subject of a Commons statement by the government.
It follows a determined campaign by relatives of the four soldiers - Privates Collinson, Sean Benton, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray - to expose the truth behind their deaths.
According to leaked documents, those facing criticism include a former Army captain accused of bullying Private Benton, 20, shortly before his death.
The report alludes to an incident in a pub in June 1995 in which Benton swore at the captain, after which he was put on a charge. Eight days later Benton was found dead near a Deepcut perimeter fence after borrowing a rifle from a female trainee. The captain, who will be named in the report, is also accused of making unwanted sexual advances to a female cadet on sailing trips which he was supervising.
The captain left the army in 1998 after his commanding officer described him as having a "arrogant and cavalier attitude towards young soldiers". In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, he denied any blame and pointed the finger at senior commanders.
The identities of the other soldiers facing criticism in the report have not been revealed.
Private Collinson was found dead with a single gunshot wound to his head at Deepcut in March 2002 while on guard duty at night. He died from a bullet in the heard fired upwards into his chin after he borrowed an SA80 rifle and walked off alone into the darkness to have a cigarette.
His parents Jim and Yvonne Collinson have always insisted he was a victim of a culture of bullying and violence at the Surrey base. They believe their son was either murdered or driven to suicide.
An inquest into his death earlier this month recorded an open verdict. Friends said he was happy and enjoying Army life and on the night he died he planned to meet a girlfriend after his guard duty.
Private James, 18, from North Wales, was found dead with a bullet through her forehead in November 1995. An inquest recorded an open verdict but her family claim she was sexually harassed.
Private Gray, 17, from Seaham, County Durham, was found dead at Deepcut from two shots to the head in September 2001. The Army said Gray had taken his own life but a coroner again recorded an open verdict.
In a letter to the soldiers he has investigated, Blake says his inquiry was set up to consider existing evidence surrounding the deaths and to report to the Minister for the Armed Forces.
"Insofar as I quote evidence, my intention is to allow those who were at Deepcut at the relevant times to be heard by the public in their own words, and for the public to be able to assess the available evidence for themselves."
The Army is preparing for a media onslaught on Wednesday once Blake's report is made public. Other documents reveal the Ministry of Defence is bracing itself for a barrage of bad publicity and has prepared a detailed control strategy to protect those criticised.
The move is likely to infuriate the relatives of the four privates, who have been accusing the Army of a cover-up over the deaths for several years.
A leaked letter from the Army's Directorate of Personal Services says the report is likely to be the lead item on the news on Wednesday and in the newspaper the following day.
Even though not all of those accused are in the army, press officers will be made available to defend them and advice is dispensed on how to evade the media.
Altogether, Blake's report will refer to 43 former and serving soldiers. The Directorate letter warns that even those not named must be prepared for their identities to emerge. All concerned are invited to a sandwich lunch on Wednesday, to be followed by a briefing session.