Private Sean Benton inquest will examine evidence of bullying at Deepcut barracks, Coroner rules

Private Sean Benton SUS-170922-092201001
Private Sean Benton SUS-170922-092201001

A coroner has ruled that the fresh inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton will examine wider allegations of bullying and abuse at Deepcut barracks.

His Honour Judge Peter Rook QC announced at a pre-inquest review this week that evidence relating to the alleged bullying of other recruits will be heard as part of the investigation into whether Sean himself suffered abuse himself in the months before his death.

Many people have stated publicly and to Sean’s family that they believe he endured vicious and prolonged physical and psychological bullying at the barracks.

The Coroner ruled at a previous pre-inquest hearing 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.

Sean, 20, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest on June 9, 1995 – shortly 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. [1]

His death was followed by an internal Army investigation which his family fear was rushed and inadequate. They went on to spend more than 20 years fighting for the thorough inquest they and their son deserved.

Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015. This was granted in October 2016.

The application was made possible only after Sean’s late mother Linda Benton used the Human Rights Act to access vast amounts of evidence held by Surrey Police about his death. Linda died in May 2015, having never discovered the truth about her son’s death.

Sean’s sister Tracy Lewis said: “It won’t be easy to listen to people give evidence about bullying and abuse – but it’s so important to us to learn the truth about the toxic environment we fear Sean lived in. It’s what our mum fought for 20 years for.

“We’re grateful that the Coroner has decided to allow a wider range of allegations to be heard than just those affecting Sean directly, and are hopeful we will find answers to the questions we’ve been asking for so long.”

Emma Norton, Liberty’s Head of Casework and solicitor to the family, said: “The Coroner’s decision is very welcome and we hope it will enable us to get a clearer picture of the reality of life at Deepcut camp.

“It’s enormously important for the family, the public and the British Army that all these matters are properly and independently investigated.”

A fresh inquest into the death of Private Cheryl James, who also died at Deepcut in 1995, last year uncovered an appalling culture at the barracks – and led the Ministry of Defence to admit a series of failings. It revealed a lack of supervision for trainee soldiers, unsupervised access to alcohol, including for under 18s, a lack of formal welfare policy and no support for young people, and a highly sexualised environment.