The High Court has today (October 14) ordered a fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton – more than 20 years after he died while undergoing training at Deepcut barracks.
Sean’s twin brother Tony Benton and sister Tracy Lewis, represented by Liberty, applied for a fresh inquest in July 2015.
The application was made possible only after their mother Linda Benton, who died last year, used the Human Rights Act to access reams of evidence held by Surrey Police about his death.
A date for the fresh inquest has yet to be set.
Sean, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest on 9 June 1995 – one day after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army.
He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002.
Today’s decision comes four months after the conclusion of a fresh inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James, which exposed the toxic, unsafe and sexualised environment in which Cheryl, Sean and other Deepcut recruits lived.
Sean’s death was immediately investigated by the Army’s internal police force, the Royal Military Police, rather than by civilian police.
His family estimate the initial inquest – which took place a month later – lasted less than two hours. It heard evidence from just six people. Sean’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought or given about his experiences at Deepcut. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.
In the years since, many people have stated to his family and publicly – including in a major BBC documentary aired earlier this year – that they believe he had endured vicious and prolonged physical and psychological bullying at the barracks.
As with the other Deepcut deaths, a criminal investigation carried out by Surrey Police in 2002 and 2003 concluded there was no evidence of third party involvement.
In 2012, Liberty – acting on behalf of Sean’s mother Linda – used Article 2 of the Human Rights Act to insist Surrey Police give her access to all evidence held by the force about her son and his death. They agreed to disclose all relevant material – a process that finally finished in 2015.
Tracy Lewis, Sean’s older sister, said: “Our family had just 20 years with Sean. It has taken us another 21 to secure the thorough, independent inquiry we should have seen immediately after his death. For that reason, our parents are not here with us to see this day.
“For two decades, our family has been tormented by questions about what Sean went through at Deepcut. If his death had been properly investigated in 1995, we would have been spared years of uncertainty and pain.
“It should be a source of huge shame to the Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police that our mother had to fight for so long – far longer than she should have had to – to force the authorities to answer basic questions. We look forward to finally discovering the truth.”
Emma Norton, Liberty’s legal director and solicitor for Sean’s family, said: “Just as with the Hillsborough families, the parents of Cheryl James and so many others, the Bentons’ perfectly reasonable questions about their son’s death were met with decades of stonewalling, silence and suspicion.
“Just as in those cases, it was only the Human Rights Act – the law our Government remains determined to repeal – that enabled the family to access information to which they had every right.
“Sean Benton was young and vulnerable. He deserved so much better. We are hopeful his family can now finally have their questions answered and that lessons are learnt so young recruits like Sean are better protected in future.”
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