Dead soldier’s mother bankrupt in battle for truth

17-year-old James Collinson died from gunshot wounds. Picture: Reuters
17-year-old James Collinson died from gunshot wounds. Picture: Reuters
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THE mother of a Scottish soldier who died at an Army barracks has revealed that her decade-long quest to find out what happened has left her bankrupt.

Yvonne Collinson Heath has spent 11 years contacting three Prime Ministers and three defence secretaries, desperately trying to find out what happened to 17-year-old son, James, at Deepcut in Surrey in 2002.

But ultimately her attempts have ended in failure, with three successive governments ruling out a public inquiry into the barracks dubbed the “camp from hell”.

Yesterday, Mrs Heath said her battle, which included frequent trips to London with relatives of other dead soldiers to lobby politicians, has left her with credit card debts and mortgage arrears on a home in Perth.

In an autobiography, A Mother’s War, published this week, Mrs Heath writes: “There is a common misconception we were paid to go on television and radio shows, or were given fees for interviews. The truth is, our media appearances and the constant campaigning actually cost us money and led to bankruptcy. Any money we did have dwindled away on travelling expenses, new clothes for being on television or general day-to-day living.

“We then racked up huge debts on mail-order catalogues because we had no other way of paying for clothes, and credit cards were used to cover our travelling. By July 2003 we had no money left and the family home, the house where James grew up, was repossessed. It was heart-breaking.”

Four soldiers died at Deepcut – home to the Royal Logistic Corps and officially known as the Princess Royal Barracks – in the space of seven years.

Private Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, Sussex, Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Hackney, east London, and Private Cheryl James, 18, were all found shot dead in similar circumstances between 1995 and 2001.

Private James Collinson had been on guard duty on the night of 23 March, 2002, when he became the fourth to be found with a gunshot wound to the head.

In all the cases, despite suggestions of foul play, the army maintained the four soldiers took their own lives.

With the other parents, Mrs Heath has spent 11 years fighting for answers into the tragedies, lobbying Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and then David Cameron.

However, successive governments have repeatedly refused demands for a public inquiry, with the official Deepcut Review by QC Nicholas Blake also concluding in 2006 that the soldiers most likely killed themselves.

Mrs Heath’s book gives the first detailed insight into the Deepcut campaign and charts her own harrowing life story.

Mrs Heath, now living in Ellesmere Port, near Chester, said: “As much as anything else, I wanted to tell the story of a little boy who overcame the odds and fulfilled his ambition to become a soldier, only to see his life cruelly cut short before he had even reached his 18th birthday.

“People often say that time heals, but I’m not so sure. The pain of losing a child: that will stay with me for ever. Deepcut will never go away.”

Meanwhile, it emerged last week that a “cold case” review of police files is under way in a bid to force an inquiry into the four deaths.

Lawyers acting for the families have been given special access to paperwork collated by Surrey detectives investigating the tragedies.