Coroner blasts the MoD for failing to learn from the deaths of two soldiers at Deepcut army barracks as he rules a 17-year-old recruit also took his own life
- Geoff Gray was one of four soldiers to die at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002
- The army recruit was discovered with two gunshot wounds to the head in 2001
- Parents believed he was killed however a coroner ruled death as suicide today
- Coroner told court in Woking, Surrey that MoD failed to learn from other deaths
Geoff Gray (pictured) was found at Deepcut with two gunshot wounds to the head
A coroner has slammed the MoD for failing to learn from the deaths of two young soldiers at Deepcut army barracks after concluding a third recruit took his own life.
Pte Geoff Gray, 17, who was one of four soldiers to die at the base between 1995 and 2002, was discovered with two gunshot wounds to the head.
His parents have claimed that the trigger was pulled by another person, however Judge Coroner Peter Rook concluded that he killed himself at an inquest today.
Woking Coroner’s Court heard that Pte Grey had been happy in the army and there was no suggestion that he was ever the victim of mistreatment.
He was the third of four young recruits to die at the barracks between 1995 and 2002 amid allegations of a culture of bullying and abuse.
Five spent cartridges were found next to Pte Gray’s body.
Sean Benton, 20, Cheryl James, 18, and James Collinson, 17, also died from gunshot wounds.
The inquest heard the barracks were on high alert in the days after the 9/11 attacks in New York and – contrary to orders – Pte Gray had gone on patrol alone when he died.
The coroner was critical of the MoD for failing to remove phase 2 trainees from guard duty, a process which could be ‘lonely and unsettling’ for new recruits.
He told the court: ‘By 2001 the MoD had still not taken action to avoid the need for Phase 2 trainees to perform guard duty.
‘Phase 2 trainees would have been trained in the skill of how to make a weapon work, but would have had little or no experience as to when to use one.
James Collinson (left) was found with a single gunshot wound to his chin in 2002, while Pte Cheryl James (right) was found with a gunshot wound to her forehead in 1995
‘As well as guard duty often being a demoralising experience in itself, on any view, guard duty in themiddle of the night at an isolated location could be a deeply unsettling and lonely experience for young inexperienced trainees.’
The army should have been aware of the dangers following the first two deaths, the coroner said.
He added: ‘It is deeply disappointing to discover that the MoD was so slow to recognised the risks of Phase 2 trainees being required to do guard duty, in terms of exposing them to the opportunity to self harm whilst alone and isolated with a lethal weapon.
‘There was a failure to appreciate that whatever new welfare measures were being introduced, on occasions it will not be foreseeable that a particular young trainee was at risk.’
Pte Gray – described as ‘capable and disciplined’ by his superiors – was originally from County Durham but had grown up in Hackney, east London.
His family said ‘he loved every minute of being in the army’ and he had no history of mental health problems or reported any bullying to them.
Pte Gray was the third of four young recruits to die at the barracks (pictured) between 1995 and 2002 amid allegations of a culture of bullying and abuse
Pte Gray had been due to commence his HGV driver training at a different barracks the week after his death and had been itching to leave Deepcut, his family said.
An open verdict was recorded in the first inquest into his death in 2002, but a fresh inquest was ordered after former Attorney General Jeremy Wright said he was satisfied fresh evidence had come to light.
After a five-month inquest in which evidence from 91 witnesses was heard, Coroner Peter Rook QC concluded Pte Gray’s death was suicide.
He noted the investigation had been hampered by inconsistent witness statements indicating the soldier’s body may have been moved and seeming to implicate another recruit.
The presence of two gunshot wounds and no prior history of mental health also raised questions about the cause of death.
Following a review of the ballistic evidence, including fresh analysis by independent experts, Mr Rook concluded Pte Gray was shot at very close range by the SA80 rifle found next to his body.
He found that if on automatic mode, the weapon could fire 11 rounds a second and that it was possible for a single burst of five shots to have been fired – with two hitting Pte Gray and three missing him.
‘The ultimate position is that the forensic evidence is consistent with self-infliction but does not rule out infliction by another,’ Mr Rook said.
Sean Benton (pictured) was the first to be found dead at the barracks, in 1995
But he concluded: ‘The scene and nature of the act rule out any suggestion that this may have been functional or attention seeking behaviour not intended to be carried through to its inevitable conclusion.’
He said there was no evidence of an intruder at the scene, no-one would have any motive to want to harm Pte Gray, and there was no direct evidence of the involvement of another person.
‘It follows that I conclude that at the moment he pulled the trigger, Geoff had the specific intention to end his life.’
Despite the suicide conclusion, Mr Rook noted: ‘There is no evidence from any witness that even remotely suggests that Geoff was bullied or subject to excessive discipline at Deepcut, or that he had any obvious or unobserved welfare problems for which he was not receiving support.’
He also emphasised the inquest into Pte Gray’s death was not a public inquiry into the wider culture of Deepcut.
During the inquest, two of Pte Gray’s contemporaries reported him making joking comments about shooting himself on the night of his death.
His complaints were apparently made in frustration at increased guard duties all recruits were subject to in the wake of 9/11.
Pte Jack Blackburn recalled Pte Gray saying: ‘I’ve done two 24-hour shifts on the weekend. I feel like shooting myself,’ before adding: ‘If I shoot myself first will you shoot yourself second?’
A few hours earlier, Pte Paul Craig overheard someone he believed to be Pte Gray saying ‘I wonder what it would be like to have a bullet in the head’, while playing computer games during a break from guard duties.
Mr Rook was critical of both Surrey Police and the Royal Military Police’s Special Investigation Branch (SIB) for their ‘lackadaisical’ handling of the case.
‘It is clear that the very early assumption of suicide made at the scene led to a limited scene investigation, an absence of contemporary witness accounts were recorded and an early opportunity to explore important inconsistencies between search witnesses was lost,’ he said.
Neither force was clear who was leading the investigation, with Surrey Police believing they had handed the reins to the SIB, while the SIB thought they were only assisting Surrey Police, Mr Rook said.
The forensic examination of the scene was so half-hearted that a 1in piece of Pte Gray’s skull was found a year after his death, the inquest heard.
His rifle had also been moved ‘out of the way’ by one of the soldiers who found the body, and no photographs were taken of the position of the cartridges.
Pte Gray’s clothes were earmarked for destruction just a day after his death by the coroner without forensic examination, while his boots were returned to the barracks to be reissued to another soldier.
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