British Army Faces Own Abuse Scandal | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.12.2004
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British Army Faces Own Abuse Scandal

As Germany investigates allegations of abuse in its armed forces, in Britain, a similar scandal is unfolding. The families of four British soldiers who died at a training barracks are calling for a public inquiry.


Four recruits died under mysterious circumstances

Each year, thousands of new army recruits pass through the Deepcut barracks in Surrey for basic training. But since the mid-1990's there have been many claims of bullying by trainees and of stories of humiliation during training.

The most severe allegations surround the deaths of four recruits aged between 17 and 20 who trained at Deepcut between 1995 and 2001. British army officials found the four had committed suicide, but their relatives insist they were happy with their careers and believe they were victims of a culture of fear and violence.

Mysterious deaths

Private Sean Benton, 20, died with five bullet wounds to his chest, but even though ballistics evidence found that four had been fired from a distance, British army officials said he had killed himself.

Private Cheryl James, 18, suffered a single bullet wound to her head. Military officials cited suicide, but a coroner who investigated the case recorded an open verdict.

Private James Collinson, 17, killed by a single gun shot, was apparently happy and according to his parents had no reason to kill himself.

Geoff Gray, a 17-year-old private, was found with two gunshot wounds to his head. Again, the army said it was suicide but the coroner heard evidence of someone running from the scene.

Geoff’s parents, who did not even know their son had been shot twice until six months later, say no proper investigation of his death has ever taken place.

"We have spent two and a half years trying to find out how our son lost his life," Gray's father, also Geoff, said in written evidence to the House of Commons defense committee looking into the treatment of armed forces recruits. "Documents were destroyed, examination of forensic evidence (was) not carried out. In the course of our quest for truth, we have become aware of more and more families in a similar position."

Culture of bullying?

A police probe into the deaths of the four recruits uncovered 173 allegations of abuse, including claims of rape, racism, and beatings. The Deepcut families are pushing members of parliament to launch a full, public inquiry.

The British Armed Forces Minister, Adam Ingram, told the House of Commons that the report was not proof of a culture of abuse at Deepcut.

"Violence and intimidation are not the means by which the army produces the soldiers it needs," Ingram said in a statement on Tuesday. "Our policy continues to be to bear down on such behavior hard, and as far as is possible, to eradicate it completely from our bases and training grounds." Ingram insisted everything possible is being done to get to the bottom of the situation at Deepcut and said anyone found guilty of bullying or abusing recruits will be dealt with. However, he said that an independent inquiry was unnecessary.

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