Deepcut deaths still haunt the MoD

The MP Kevin Macnamara now retired, who legend has it was once described by Jim Callaghan as “ the Fianna Fail MP for Hull north” used to come up to me from time and time and ask “ what are you doing about Deepcut?” “Er, nothing just now, “ I would reply, not really my beat, that sort of thing and maybe I thought – unworthily as I now believe – Kevin was just a bit too keen to find fault with the Army. But now a play has wakened up the smart people to Deepcut. The play, a production by the Sherman Cymru company touring to the Traverse in Edinburgh, is Deep Cut, an investigation into the deaths from gunshot wounds of four British army privates at Deepcut barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002, and based on parents’ quest for justice. The rude awakening came this week to theatre critic Mark Lawson who said after twenty odd years as a reviewer: “Never before have I been so moved, or enraged, by a play.”
Sympathy for the British Army is far from universal. But before you turn away, you might remember three things. First, that brutalised soldiers can become brutalising soldiers; that alleged army victims are as entitled to justice being seen to be done as much as anybody else; and that in the teeth of calls for inquiries for the bereaved, it’s more than ever necessary to keep an open mind.
As Lawson puts it, “a campaign of doubt was run by the parents of Private Cheryl James (see picture), whose body was found beside her gun. Her death – like those in similar circumstances of Ptes Benton, Gray and Collinson – was attributed to suicide. The play rigorously and shockingly makes the case that all were cases of murder or, at the least, manslaughter.”

A main allegation presists, that the ballistics evidence on which so much rested, was seriously flawed.
(shades of the Birmingham 6) New findings commissioned by parents delayed the first inquiry report by Surrey police, but they were not enough..

Evidence of a culture of sex, drinking and bullying among recruits was given insufficient weight by Nicholas Blake QC, who chaired an internal inquiry. So here is another inquiry which lacked public confidence.
The key research was done by journalist Brian Cathcart, ( son of the late local historian Rex by the way) who specialises in investigating high profile cases like Jill Dando and Stephen Lawrence. He describes the Deepcut affair as “ a failure of journalism.” Guilty. And there may be more to come.


    There is NO doubt that when it comes to accusations of British Army transgressions or wrongdoings the British media and parliamentary world pull a veil over it all and clam up. It has been going on in the North of Ireland for decades and before that since partition and remains a shameful stain on British journalism and it’s political system. The British Army largely remains off limits and free to do and get away with what it wants. There is still a Victorian mindset that Britain can do NO wrong and that ANY criticism is all ‘enemy’ propoganda. It is however harder to dismiss when it comes from within. Wasn’t it Edward Heath & the Tories in the early 1970’s who reminded press barons and broadcasting supremos that Britain was fighting a propoganda war in the North of Ireland; in other words facts & truth don’t even come into it. We seen this with the Army killing of nationalists in the early 70’s, particularly McGurks Bar, the murder of 6 people in the New Lodge and 7 in Ballymurphy and again with Bloody Sunday and Gibraltar. These were dismissed as motiveless murders, IRA own goals & Army retaliation etc. The British media is disgusting; it is ignoring and turning a blind eye to torture and rendition flights of Muslims in the same way it was sruck dumb over the human rights abuses of Irish people in the 70’s& 80’s. The hypocrisy of British journalism and politicians stinks to the high heavens and ALWAYS did. The relatives of the Deepcut dead will NEVER get to the truth of what happened, NEVER. Any official wrongdoing or sinister behaviour will be covered up, FACT!

  • Dewi

    “But now a play has wakened up the smart people to Deepcut”

    I dunno Brian but that is pathetic – do smart people need a play to wake them up?. It’s been a big issue for many for ages:

    BBC Wales August 2003

    Guardian 2003

    I’ll leave it at that but the Welsh media have been following this closely – if not the beautiful people…

  • Rory


    I have to say that I think you are being a bit harsh on Brian here. It is true that, as you say, Deepcut has “been a big issue for many for ages” but the trouble is that it hasn’t been big enough and if a new play can excite new interest from the chattering classes then, “Good luck”, I say.

    The difficulty is that any play of this nature will tend to be judged on its political sensibilities and all negative criticism can be artlessly dismissed as artistic critique. Of course this may sometimes work in the artist’s favour as that less than brilliant dramatist, Séan O’Casey, found to his delight.

    Mind you, if the redoubtable American novelist, Pearl S. Buck had just title to her Nobel Prize status then who is to begrudge O’Casey?

  • Brian Walker

    Lurig, With attitudes so firmly cemented down as yours, you are as unreachable as the dead in a Victorian tomb. But to others, I would say that absurd overstatements rob the protagonists of influence. Bloody Sunday, Gibraltar ( Death on the Rock) and many others were subjects of an avalanche of journalism. Not all journalism forces the subject to a point of conclusion even when it should. Journalists seldom act as moral arbiters though some do – the range is very wide. In general, they have the usual range of prejudices and flaws which the straight reporter tries to suppress and the polemicists use to make their cases. Their sense of national allegiance is among the weakest of any group – though again some write as firm patriots and no one can divest him/herself completely from their conditioning.The best they can do is recognise it and where possible turn it to advantage.

    Media ownership is a big subject. But briefly, variety is considerable, mutual criticism is intense and newspapers tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Broadcasters are subject to regulation and public scrutiny

    The Deepcut inquiry result was underplayed, as Brian Cathcart, a journalist, states. The story may not be over. The point is reached where reporters run out of things to say. Then as so often, it’s over to drama which can do just that -dramatise.

    Journalism has played its part in uncovering old stories and old lies on all sides. But the failures are all of society’s, not journalism’s alone.

    NI in the 70s experienced a maelstrom of events. Any one of hundreds a month would have merited a full inquiry. These stories too aren’t all over, but journalists, like everyone else, will also want to concentrate on today.

  • The Sherman Cymru play won the 2008 Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Festival. It’s good and not just as a medium for a message. As my Scottish colleague John Watson said a week or so back:

    “Deep Cut … is theatre of the highest quality, but this is a play that wants to do more than entertain – it sets out to change the world.”

    Of course, Amnesty (working alongside Kevin McNamara at the Commons) has been campaigning for justice for the Deep Cut families for years (Armed forces families deserve justice – 2003) and we still support the families’ quest for the truth. It is great that this play is already helping to shine a new spotlight on the cases and it would be good to see it coming to Northern Ireland.

  • runciter

    Their sense of national allegiance is among the weakest of any group

    But the real issue is not allegiance to nation, but allegiance to power.

    Media ownership is a big subject. But briefly, variety is considerable, mutual criticism

    To say that “variety is considerable” ignores the main point, which is that commonalities exist between the owners of the media. It is these commonalities which naturally form the ‘shared interests’ of the powerful.

    Also, in the UK, as in most states, the elites have places in which they gather together, and in this way the varied interests (military, political, commercial) become inter-linked.

    Foe example, one of the main purposes of the House of Lords is to facilitate the trading of influence.

    Broadcasters are subject to regulation and public scrutiny

    Regulation by peers (pun intended) is of limited use.

    Public scrutiny by whom?

  • Rory

    “Journalists seldom act as moral arbiters though some do…”

    Indeed some do and none more shamefully than the Sunday Times, under Andrew Neill’s editorship, in its disgraceful coverage of the Death on the Rock incident when it pulled out all stops to discredit the indefatigable eye-witniss Carmen Proetta, going so far as to lyingly accuse her of working as a prostitute.

    Ms Proetta was made of sterner stuff than Neill bargained for however and, armed with the truth of what she had witnessed and her dignified self-belief, she successfully sued the Sunday Times for libel in the London courts.

  • Rory

    “eye-witness“. Apologies.

  • Before we all get side tracked with our very own what abouteries and how often does that happen on slugger to move the story off topic? We should remember what happened at Deap Cut. Bright and bushy tailed young recruits to the British army were brutalized and possibly murdered by members of the British army who had a duty of care towards them.

    If that were not bad enough, the armies chain of command, their political masters and their media gofers covered this obscenity up. For there is a long tradition in the British state of the buck never stopping at the top, or anywhere near the top of the chain of command.

    Mark Lawson and Brian are to be thanked for reminding us this scandal as to is the playwright. What we as individuals can do about it I know not, but if anyone does know of how we can give support to the families of these youngsters, who had their lives stolen, I would grateful if they could post it here or let me know off list.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if some of those retired generals and colonels who regularly write to the Daily Telegraph about this or that, put pen to paper over this, and proved that todays army still does not have the same mentality of 1914-18, when you had lions led by donkeys. Sadly behind all the spin little seems to have changed.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    There was an inquiry by the British Army and the deaths were all suicides by young men who, despite the great time they were having as new recruits, decided to kill themselves without warning. Raking over this issue is just trouble-making by the relatives.

  • billie jo

    I’m not sure if you are taking the mickey or not, but considering one of the victims was a young woman I find your post distasteful

  • Yvonne

    Can I ask what Inquiry that was by the Army and what the findings were…..I certainly don’t know of any???

  • dodrade

    What I always wondered is how a story which was initially (and still is for the families) about allegations of murder quickly became sidetracked into claims of bullying.

  • Yvonne

    The culture of bullying was uncovered during the police investigation into the 4 deaths.

  • dodrade

    But bullying is less serious than murder. Could it be the army took the hit on bullying (which would support suicide) to divert attention away from the original allegations.

  • Yvonne

    That could certainly be the case, yes. Although I believe there was a culture of bullying going on at the time, there has been no proof that bullying played any part in the deaths.

  • Can I point out that there is a completely different play about the Deepcut families being staged in Newcastle from the 9th of October.

  • Is it possible that what we have at Deepcut is a military generation gap?

    A “culture of bullying” would been accepted,say, in the 1970s as part of basic training in preparing young men for combat duty.

    I note that, at least one of the Deepcut suicides was a young female soldier.

    Could this be a generation that doesnt like to be treated badly?

    I just hope the taleban are nice to them….

  • All four soldiers that died at Deepcut had finished basic training. They were awaiting trade training in a camp that was described as out of control. Not only do we not know how or why they died, not one person has been held accountable for thier deaths, whether it be suicide murder or manslaughter.

  • Geoff
    If the deaths were not by the soldiers own hand then that is an entirely different matter.

    I had (apparently wrongly) assumed that these were young recruits would had died by suicide during basic training.

    I still think my substantive point about a military generation gap is generally true.

  • Phil,
    Being the father of one of the soldiers I have expert knowledge of the cases. To be honest no one knows what happened. The only way that we can get close to the truth is by having a public inquiry, where witnesses are forced to give evidence and documents are siezed.
    I think your point on the generation gap is a valid one but bares no connection to the Deepcut deaths.

  • No, No, No, this is not simply a matter of bullying, that is the alibi line and how willingly we have gone done the road the authorities chose for us/the media/etc. If you go down this road you will come to the destination that white washes the army command and lets the politicians off the hook.

    It is all down to a few bad eggs and some youngsters who were not quiet up to it, nod wink. Get rid of the bad eggs, tweak the regulations and it is business as usual.

    What ever way you look at this there is a massive can of worms, these youngsters did not all die at the same time, but over a protracted period, Think what this means, first the military police failed to investigate the matter properly, as also did the civilian police, the local army command did the same and the senior command also.

    Even if the bullying line had been true it would have amounted to a gross deriliction of duty by the authorities, as it resulted in not one, but four young people lossing their lives. Why did they not act after the 1st death, the 2nd, the 3rd etc, what stopped them?

    It is possibly a serial killer or killers could have been at work, that alone demands a proper public enquiry.

    On a wider issue generational changes have nothing to do with bullying, nor does tradition or any of the other excuses that are trotted out. BULLYING HAS NEVER BEEN ACCEPTABLE, ask anyone who has been bullied. What has happened in the past and indeed sadly still does, is that weak or wicked people in authority over others, have turned a blind eye to it, or have activily encouraged it whilst the majority look the other way.

    These youngsters lost their lives because of a dereliction of duty by the authorities. If we start from there then just perhaps the families may eventually get some closure.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Allow me to clarify: All of the deaths were suicides – including the young woman (who clearly was not a man). The British Army said so. Those who challenge this view are giving succour to trouble-makers. Do you seriously believe the British Army would murder young soldiers in their ranks? Harsh but true, I’m afraid.

  • Geoff.
    Please accept my condolences as one father to another.

    My own son is making noises about a career in the military-hopefully that aspiration leaves him at some point.

    If the Deepcut deaths are being, in someway, covered up then I cant begin to imagine why at least someone in the Commons hasnt taken this up to the point where there is a full public inquiry.

  • Mick I have to disagree with you on one aspect of your contribution.

    What would be viewed-in a civilian setting-as bullying is standard practice of army instructors down through the centuries.

    Young men-since the time of the Pharoes-have been trained and prepared for the trauma of battle.

    This is not-and cannot be- a pleasant educational experience.

    The Deepcut deaths-as we have geoff’s contribution-maybe of an entirely different order.

    Bottomw line recruits to a combat unit SHOULD be treated terribly as per extreme PT and verbal abuse.
    Failure to “beast” recruits is criminally negligent imo

  • Billie Joe-there is, surely, enough concern for a public inquiry into thei Deepcut barracks.

    How is that “troublemaking”?

  • Phil

    I understand your point, but bullying is something different from what you are describing, it is singling out an individual for what is harsher/different treatment, [for want of better words] than what the majority receive.

    For example we are all different, thus there are procedure’s in military training that are designed to bring along youngsters who cannot keep up, but still show keenness, if crude punishments like bunny hops etc fails to do the trick they will be back classed in the hope that they may progress better at a slower pace and so on.

    There is a fine edge here, almost an art-form, because bullying breaks a person spirit, which is something which negates the whole point of such training.

    However none of this appears to be relevant here, for Geoff has said all four youngsters had finished their basic training, thus all were regarded as adequate soldiers as far as fitness etc was concerned.

  • Rooster Cogburn

    “But now a play has wakened up the smart people to Deepcut” – a new, self-regarding, sub-literate low.

    I’ve got to ask, ‘Northern Ireland’? Yup. ‘Politics’? Uhuh. ‘Culture’? Yeah, sure, why not? But, ‘Brian Walker’s entirely unremarkable, witlessly predictable opinions 24/7’? No. Really, No. I’m just about at the point where I will pay for them to stop. You know, like splashing out on some pop-up blocking programme.

  • I agree Mick that deep Cut is different-or would certainly appear to be different-I said so in a previous contribution.

    Perhaps we are at cross purposes.

    If a person-in a civilian job-was shouted at berated and given PT as a punishment then this would lead to litigation.

    In military training it HAS to be like that.

    If someone cant handle basic training they wont handle battle.

    This is especially important in, say, the British army because,unlike the ROI PDF, the British amry is involved in fighting operations.

  • topdeckomnibus

    Geoff. Did the autopsies test for aberrant levsl of seritonin ? I am not expert but have tried, from time to time, to seek to quash a suicide verdict of 1972. I understand that medical research in USA shew that in 95% of cases with a suicide verdict there was this brain chemistry aberration. And the chances were that the 5% of suicide verdicts where the brain chemistry was not aberrant were probably wrong verdicts. IE There appears to be a test which can almost certainly rule out suicide. I was unable to find out anything further.

    Also the method of suicide is found to reflect personality. This is the reason women attempt suicide four times more than men but four times as many men die of suicide than women. The old “Cry for Help” theory is said to be discredited. Women use methods which lend themselves to medical intervention (overdose) whereas men use more violent methods. This is not so for professional women who tend to use male methods.

    If these young people were victims of bullying NCO how come they did not use victim method of suicide ?

    If one had shot the NCO and then shot himself. I would feel that suicide was the right verdict. But just to self destruct using non victim method. No.

    My nephew was in training at Deepcut. The bully NCOs would have been frightened to cross him. I know he laid a sergeant out with one punch on FIBUA training. He was asked to act the part of a violent street protestor. Wrong choice.

  • Topdeck
    method of suicide indicates level of suicidal intent.
    Women (not neccessarily professional women) will use highly effective mwans (hanging, drowning etc) if they genuinely wish to end their lives.

    I have no come across any autoposy method apropos brain chemistry that can rule out suicide.

    the chemical imbalance in brain argument is rather circular-does the chemical imblance cause the behaviour? Or does the behaviour cause the chemical imblanace?

    Moreover if people have been medicated with SSRIs then the brain chemistry is altered.

  • Peter Wright

    It offered no conclusion on the death of Pte James Collinson, whose inquest earlier this month returned an open verdict.

    The Army also still has to hold internal inquiries into two of the deaths.

  • Yvonne

    The Army has held internal inquiries into all 4 deaths. Those reports, like ALL other reports have never been released…..not even to the families. Hence my question to Billie Joe about the findings of the Army investigations. Do you know something no-one else does?

  • Phil

    Your right in that our posts crossed, I agree with the points you made about the necessity of certain aspects when training soldiers.

    best regards

  • Yes Mick. Agreed.
    Tough training in the military is NOT bullying.

    However to the civilian looking on it would all look like bullying.

    These young men are being prepared to kill at close quarters and to withstand that trauma and move onto the next objective.

    Training that didnt prepare them for that would be the educational equivalent of sending them into battle with sub-standard equipment (something has has definitely happened).

  • Brian Walker

    Rooster… Stop sulking! Immediately!

  • Rooster Cogburn

    Seriously, how much will it cost me to stop broadcasting on this frequency the non-stop, Brian Walker chuntering express? Sterling, Euros, slaughtered calves – if Slugger names a price, and if I can afford it, let this reign of dud-poet quoting, unreflective liberal sanctimony come to an end! I’m contemplating throwing some firstborn into the deal as a sweetener.

  • Peter Wright

    It offered no conclusion on the death of Pte James Collinson, whose inquest earlier this month returned an open verdict.

    The Army also still has to hold internal inquiries into two of the deaths.

    I meant to point out that there was a delay in the investigation of two of the deaths.

    Hardly inspires confidence?