Backing for Deepcut inquiry call
A CORONER backed calls yesterday for a public inquiry into the events surrounding the deaths of four soldiers at Deepcut barracks after an inquest jury returned an open verdict on the death of a young Scottish private.
Pte James Collinson, 17, from Perth, was found dead with a single gunshot wound at Deepcut barracks in Surrey in March, 2002.
The army has always claimed that Pte Collinson committed suicide, and a police inquiry found that no-one else was involved in his death.
But the dead soldier's parents have refused to accept the findings.
At Epsom Magistrates Court yesterday, Michael Burgess, the coroner, threw his weight behind the calls for an inquiry, insisting the Ministry of Defence had "nothing to fear" from such an investigation.
He said: "My personal view, and I emphasise that it is a personal view, is that the MoD should take whatever steps are necessary to restore public confidence in the recruitment and training of young soldiers whether at Deepcut or elsewhere.
"I personally believe that they have nothing to fear from an inquiry held in public [if that is what is necessary] where the various issues [outside the direct causation of the deaths of James and others] can be explored in greater depth and where the MoD can demonstrate... that there really is a lot of good in the system."
The inquest heard that minutes before Pte Collinson's death he had borrowed a loaded SA80 rifle which, under Deepcut rules, he was too young to carry and walked off alone, saying he wanted to have a cigarette.
A single shot was heard and the teenager's body was found lying next to the perimeter fence with the borrowed rifle partly across his body.
His death generated massive media focus on the camp, drawing attention to the deaths of three other young Deepcut soldiers in similar circumstances over the previous seven years.
An investigation by Surrey Police found no evidence that anyone else was involved in the deaths.
The soldiers' families have campaigned for a public inquiry into the deaths and the training regime at Deepcut amid claims of a "culture of bullying".
At the close of yesterday's inquest Mr Burgess said he would also be writing to John Reid, the Secretary of State for Defence, highlighting concerns on a number of issues, including possible improvements to the system of issuing weapons at the barracks.
Pte Collinson's father, Jim, said the result of the inquest strengthened their calls for a public inquiry.
In a direct call to the Ministry of Defence, Mr Collinson said: "Our question is what are they scared of, what are they frightened we will find out?
"This has been a great day for everyone that has been trying to get justice for our kids that died.
"There has got to be, for the sake of the kids, for the sake of the children that died there, there has to be a public inquiry."
Last night the MoD said it would study the coroner's comments "very carefully".
Major General Andrew Graham, the director general of the Army Training and Recruitment Agency, said: "The army trains several thousand troops every year and the quality of their training and welfare is among our highest priorities. During the inquest two soldiers, Pte Michael Foody and Lance Corporal Scott Smith, gave evidence that Pte Collinson had told them the evening he died that he would shoot himself if he got his hands on a gun.
Post-mortem tests indicated that the weapon had been fired directly upwards into his chin - something which indicated that the wound was self-inflicted.
The two-and-a-half week inquest also heard of an "emotional rollercoaster" in the 17-year-old's personal life in the months leading to his death, including his parents' separation, being rebuffed by a girlfriend after confessing his love, as well as his joining the army.
But close friends and family who saw Pte Collinson in the days and hours before his death spoke of a "happy" teenager busy making plans for the future.
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