Hastings soldier’s sister tells inquest he was “shackled” at Deepcut barracks

Private Sean Benton
Private Sean Benton

The sister of a Hastings soldier shot dead at Deepcut barracks in 1995 told a second inquest into his death her brother was shackled and made to parade in front of other recruits.

Tracy Lewis said the years of stress following Sean Benton’s death at the Surrey army camp had contributed to the early death of their father, Harry Benton. Mother Linda and younger brother Lee also died without knowing their 23-year campaign for a fresh inquiry had succeeded.

A young Sean Benton SUS-180124-171047001

A young Sean Benton SUS-180124-171047001

Sean Benton was 20 when he was shot five times in the chest. A second inquest, ordered after the High Court quashed the original verdict of suicide, opened at the Coroner’s Court in Woking on Wednesday, January 24.

Mrs Lewis, who lives in Hastings, told the hearing her brother said he had been jailed by the army after being thrown through a window.

“He told me he’d been jailed for ten days. Shackled, made to parade around the canteen.

“He was humiliated, embarrassed.

Private Sean Benton. SUS-180124-171059001

Private Sean Benton. SUS-180124-171059001

“I should’ve questioned him more but I was naive, didn’t know any different.”

Asked by Paul Greaney QC for the family if he had used the word shackled, Mrs Lewis said: “He used that word.

“He was made to parade around the canteen and that had embarrassed him and he felt humiliated. He declined to eat his dinner and asked to go back to the cells.”

Private Benton was the first of four young soldiers who lost their lives at Deepcut by shooting between 1995 and 2002. A second inquest for fellow recruit Cheryl James in 2016 concluded she had taken her own life.

In a statement read to the court, Mrs Lewis said the impact of her brother’s death was immediate and profound.

“It changed the course of all of our lives, my mother never got over it and I’m sure the stress contributed to my father’s early death,” Mrs Lewis said.

Mrs Lewis said there had been a terrible lack of information from the army, Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police following her brother’s death.

“This made it much worse for us,” she said in a statement in January this year.

“I have no agenda other than to find the truth.”

Following the first day of an inquest which will last until Easter, a spokesman for the Army said Sean Benton’s death was a tragedy and apologised to his family.

“The Army deeply regrets the death of Private Sean Benton on June 9, 1995. His death was a terrible tragedy.

“The Army apologises for the shortcomings at Deepcut in 1995. We took too long to recognise and rectify the situation.

“The Army is not afraid to be open and honest and to be held accountable for its actions, whether in training or on operations. We care about our soldiers above all else, they are the Army.

“Nobody wants to know more than we do what can be done to reduce the risk of a tragedy like Private Sean Benton’s death happening again.”

Private Benton’s family applied for a second inquest in July 2015. This was granted in October 2016.

At a pre-inquest review, the Coroner ruled that the case engages Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – meaning there will be a full investigation into Sean’s death and the wider environment in which he lived at Deepcut.

As part of this, the inquest will examine evidence relating to the alleged bullying of other recruits, as well as investigating whether Sean himself suffered abuse in the months before his death.

Speaking on Monday (January 22), Mrs Lewis said the family have always believed the first investigation into Private Benton’s death was rushed and fell short of giving them justice.

She said: “It’s a relief after so many years to finally have the opportunity to find out what happened to my brother – but I am very sad and angry that both my parents and my younger brother died without learning the truth.”

For more information, visit http://deepcutinquest.co.uk and www.gofundme.com/sean-benton-second-inquest.