The coroner looking into the death of a young soldier at Deepcut army barracks has said that the barracks failed in its duty of care to young recruits. However, Coroner Brian Barker QC said there was no evidence Pte Cheryl James, 18, was unlawfully killed.
Pte Cheryl was found dead with a bullet wound to the head in 1995. She was one of four recruits to die at the base in seven years.
This is the second inquest into Pte James's death. The first inquest in December 1995 recorded an open verdict. This second inquest was ordered after High Court judges quashed the original findings.
In a narrative verdict, Mr Barker said there were too few permanent staff at the Surrey Barracks to train and look after the young trainees, who were often left undisciplined, and that this resulted in a failure to meet a duty of care to those young men and women. In the absence of structured training, Mr Barker said it was unsurprising that trainees would target one another. Furthermore, the extent to which trainees were able to engage in sexual relations was inappropriate, as was the prevalence of sexual relationships between instructors and trainees.
Pte James was in relationships with two soldiers at the time of her death. Both men wanted to be in an exclusive relationship with her and were upset at the situation.
Pte James had been carrying out lone guard duty at the barracks when she was found dead. Mr Barker said that non-commissioned officers (NCOs) regularly meted out guard duty to trainees as punishment, which was against army rules. There was insufficient provision of welfare support and a lack of female officers.
Mr Barker said it was regrettable there had not been a more thorough investigation at the time of Pte James's death. The inquest heard that the post-mortem could have been more thorough and that the bullet fragments were disposed of.
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