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Coroner told teen soldier shot dead at Deepcut Barracks 'may have been subject to sex attack'

Mirror logo Mirror 19/04/2016 By Siobhan McFadyen
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A teenage soldier who died after being shot in the head could have been raped the night before she was killed, a coroner's court was told today.

Private Cheryl James was just 18-years-old when her lifeless body was discovered outside the notorious Deepcut Barracks base in Surrey in November 1995.

She was found at about 8.30am close to the gate in a small wooded area surrounded by trees with a solitary gunshot wound in the front of her head and no other signs of injury.

An open verdict was recorded at the initial inquest held just three weeks after she died and which lasted just one hour sparking claims of a cover up.

Now a pre-inquest review, ahead of a fresh inquest beginning next month, has been told that the teenager could have been raped or coerced into sex by senior officers the night before she died.

Lawyers representing Cheryl's family have asked for the scope of the new hearing to be widened to take account of new testimony which they said sheds new light on her state of mind.

Alison Foster QC, representing the teenager's family, told a pre-inquest hearing at Woking Coroner's Court they have material suggesting Cheryl "may have been sexually coerced or raped the night before, or before the time of her death."

She added: "There is now a direct allegation that Cheryl might have been ordered to sleep with the person we are calling Witness A by someone superior in rank to her.

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"This is not fraternising. This is not an illicit sexual relationship between two young people across the ranks. This is something quite different."

Cheryl from Llangollen, North Wales was one of four young recruits who died in mysterious circumstances at the notorious Deepcut Barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002.

Privates Geoff Gray and James Collinson, both aged 17 years, and 20-year-old Sean Benton, also died from gunshot wounds, sparking allegations of bullying and abuse at the barracks.

The upcoming inquest will address whether there were "shortcomings" with barrack policies on sexual behaviour, supervision of young females, drugs, alcohol and accommodation.

It is also intended to shed new light on how the matter was investigated.

A ballistics expert for the families of the four deceased claimed in 2003 that it was unlikely that any of the soldiers had shot themselves.

Cheryl's body was exhumed on August 10 ahead of the fresh hearing, which will consider whether a third party was involved in her death and what happened on the evening before she died.

After a second autopsy, which found metallic fragments which had been subjected to modern ballistics analysis, her body was later reburied at a small family service.

Coroner Mr Baker said it was "hugely difficult" for Cheryl's father Des to deal with the new proceedings and any delays, and stressed he intended to keep to the scheduled inquest date of February 1, 2016.

Emma Norton, Liberty Legal Officer and solicitor for Cheryl's family they had uncovered new information which could shed new light on the case.

She said: "We have received new evidence that Cheryl was ordered by an officer to have sex with a private the night before she died.

"In light of that, we are asking the Coroner to consider the evidence of some other witnesses who complain of sexual coercion at Deepcut at the same time."

Coroner Brian Barker QC said he would make a written ruling on whether to widen the scope of the inquest in the next few weeks.

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