I am shocked by the extent to which the Army neglected their duty of care at Deepcut Barracks. For over twenty years the uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of the deaths of Cheryl James, Sean Benton, Geoff Gray and James Collinson has compounded and prolonged the grief of their families. It is now clear that earlier investigations conducted by the Army and Surrey police had serious shortcomings and failed the victims. The verdict today represents hope for closure and relief for one of the families and the prospect of justice for the others.
The deaths of the four recruits reflected the culture in the Armed Services at the time. There was an undisciplined atmosphere at Deepcut, characterised by inappropriate sexual relationships between staff and instructors. Since then, the establishment of duty of care inspections in Armed Services training facilities and the creation of the Service Complaints Ombudsman, have dramatically improved safety, welfare and accountability in the Armed Services. Nevertheless, bullying and sexual harassment continue to be a problem in the armed services and personnel remain reluctant to come forward; the 2015 Army Sexual Harassment Survey revealed that only 3% of those who had an ‘upsetting experience’ made a formal complaint.
In the spirit of openness and accountability, the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon must come to the House of Commons on Monday to make a statement so that MPs can ask questions on deaths at Deepcut. This is an opportunity for the Army and the MOD to restore public confidence in their commitment to the welfare of personnel and to demonstrate their willingness to recognise and learn from past mistakes.