04/11/2005

Deepcut investigation criticised in new report

The Surrey Police investigation into the deaths of recruits at the Deepcut army barracks has been criticised by another police force.

Devon and Cornwall Police’s report into the deaths for four recruits at the barracks concluded that Surrey Police narrowed the focus of the inquiry by concentrating too much on suicide as the most likely outcome.

The report also said that the investigation lacked focus, was overly complex and was poorly led. Devon and Cornwall Police said that, initially, national guidelines designed to aid the gathering of information and evidence were not followed and even identified difficulty in establishing who exactly was in charge of the inquiry.

Privates Sean Benton, James Collinson, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray all died from gunshot wounds at Deepcut barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002.

Although the official explanation for the deaths was suicide, some of the recruits’ families believed that they had been murdered.

Surrey Police launched a second inquiry into the deaths, following the two most recent fatalities – of Privates Gray and Collinson in 2001 and 2002 – which fuelled further speculation about the earlier deaths. It concluded that all four deaths were suicides and, in 2003, it was announced that no one would face prosecution.

The inquiry by Devon and Cornwall Police was prompted by the concerns of the families about the original investigation.

The summary, published on Friday suggested that the main problem with Surrey Police’s investigation was the “mindset” of the investigators, who, it said, appeared to believe all the deaths were suicides. “This mindset may have limited their focus and their use of some principles contained within the Murder Investigation Manual, which are designed to aid the gathering of information and evidence.”

The report also noted that Private Gray’s father, also called Geoff, had obtained documents from the Ministry of Defence, under the Freedom of Information Act, which appeared to show that Surrey Police had ‘pre-judged’ the outcome of the re-investigation as suicide.

However, the report said: “Surrey Police subsequently decided that no work should be undertaken by the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary review into these new documents.”

Mr Gray said that the new report had shown the original investigation to be a “farce”. He told BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme: “Surrey Police are trying to play down all of this, but the moment they say there is a problem with mindset that sparks concern in my mind.”

Mr Gray also reiterated calls for a public inquiry into the deaths.

Deputy Chief Constable of Surrey Police, Brian Moore, said: “The bottom line is that after an intensive two-year review of our re-investigation Devon & Cornwall Constabulary has assured us that they did not find any new lines of inquiry or evidence that we have missed.

“In the light of the findings of the Devon & Cornwall review, and subject to any new and compelling evidence coming to light, we must conclude that the Surrey Police re-investigations into the deaths of the four soldiers at the Deepcut Barracks are safe and sound.

“Despite the scale of the investigation, no evidence has come to light so far to indicate any prospect of a prosecution directly related to these deaths. Indeed there is no evidence that we have been able to find that leads us to believe that any of these soldiers died as a result of homicide.

“We are still awaiting the outcome of the Nicholas Blake review, the James Collinson inquest and the IPCC investigation. However, unless any compelling new evidence comes to light as a result of these outstanding legal procedures then the Surrey Police re-investigation is now at an end.”

(KMcA/SP)

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