New in­quest into Deep­cut death to probe ex-in­struc­tor

Surrey Advertiser - - Front Page -

THE new in­quest into the death of Pri­vate Sean Ben­ton, who was the first of four young sol­diers to die at Deep­cut ‘s Princess Royal Bar­racks (PRB) within seven years, will look into al­le­ga­tions that his for­mer in­struc­tor bul­lied other re­cruits.

The sec­ond pre-in­quest hear­ing ex­am­in­ing the wider cir­cum­stances around the death of the 20-year-old was held at Wok­ing Coroners’ Court on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

Pte Ben­ton, from Hast­ings, East Sus­sex, was dis­cov­ered with five bul­lets in his chest in June 1995 shortly af­ter he had been told he was to be dis­charged from the Army.

He was the first of four young sol­diers to die of gun­shot wounds at the PRB be­tween 1995 and 2002.

The in­quest heard that wit­nesses will be called to dis­cuss al­le­ga­tions that Sergeant An­drew Gav­aghan ha­rassed, bul­lied or abused Pte Ben­ton and other re­cruits.

Judge Peter Rook QC said Sgt Gav­aghan will be “in­ves­ti­gated in the abuse of other sol­diers” and added that the for­mer in­struc­tor can call on his own char­ac­ter wit­nesses.

He told the in­quest that such ev­i­dence is “ca­pa­ble of be­ing called on the im­por­tant is­sue of whether Sgt Gav­aghan did ha­rass, bully or abuse Pte Ben­ton, pro­vided the ev­i­dence is of sig­nif­i­cant pro­ba­tive value”.

Sgt Gav­aghan will be among 150 wit­nesses, in­clud­ing fel­low re­cruits, MOD per­son­nel and ex­pert wit­nesses such as doc­tors, pro­fes­sors and a psy­chi­a­trist.

It was ruled that ev­i­dence will also be given re­gard­ing Pte Ben­ton’s “dif­fi­culty” in pass­ing phase one of train­ing at Pir­bright be­fore join­ing PRB and let­ters writ­ten by Pte Ben­ton will be ex­am­ined.

It was also pro­posed that en­quiries should be put to wit­nesses in­clud­ing past dis­ci­plinar­ies, with some ex­cep­tions.

The fresh in­quest comes af­ter more than 20 years of cam­paign­ing by his fam­ily, who raised con­cerns that ques­tion­ing of a re­tired sergeant over his con­duct may be curbed.

A Royal Mil­i­tary Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to an ini­tial in­quest find­ing of sui­cide, even though no ev­i­dence was given about his ex­pe­ri­ences at Deep­cut.

Speak­ing af­ter the hear­ing, Pte Ben­ton’s sis­ter Tracy Lewis said: “It won’t be easy to lis­ten to peo­ple give ev­i­dence about bul­ly­ing and abuse, but it’s so im­por­tant to us to learn the truth about the toxic en­vi­ron­ment we fear Sean lived in. It’s what our mum fought for 20 years for.

“We’re grate­ful that the coroner has de­cided to al­low a wider range of al­le­ga­tions to be heard than just those af­fect­ing Sean di­rectly, and are hope­ful we will find an­swers to the ques­tions we’ve been ask­ing for so long.”

Ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary le­gal ex­pert Rhicha Kapila, the fresh in­quest into Pte Ben­ton’s death shows “there is a deeply rooted cul­ture of fear of com­ing for­ward”.

The part­ner and head of the mil­i­tary depart­ment at solic­i­tors Bolt Bur­don Kemp said: “Sean was put in the care of a trusted es­tab­lish­ment, and it is ab­so­lutely right that the in­quest re­view will look into his state of mind and any third party ac­tion in­volv­ing his death.

“It is im­por­tant that the scope of Sean’s fresh in­quest is widened so that the truth is un­cov­ered and his fam­ily and the pub­lic get the an­swers they need.”

The third pre-in­quest hear­ing will be heard at Wok­ing’s Coroners’ Court on Novem­ber 17 ahead of the full in­quest on Jan­uary 24, 2018.

(Left) Pri­vate Sean Ben­ton and (above) Deep­cut’s Princess Royal Bar­racks

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.