A fresh inquest into the death of a vulnerable young solider at Deepcut barracks will examine whether he was hounded to death by “bullying and harassment”.
Pt Sean Benton was found with five bullets in his chest in June 1995, shortly after he had been told that he was to be discharged from the Army.
The original inquest in July 1995 recorded a finding of suicide. No evidence was heard at that inquest about Benton’s experience at Deepcut.
Benton’s family have campaigned for years for a full investigation into his death amid allegations he suffered prolonged physical and psychological bullying.
Benton was one of four young soldiers to due at Deepcut barracks between 1995 and 2002.
At a fresh pre-inquest hearing at the Old Bailey, the scope of the inquest was widened to look at all of the circumstances surrounding Benton’s death including his mental state at the time and any shortcomings in relation to supervising trainees and managing their mental health.
A further pre-inquest hearing is due to be held on 20th September and a full inquest is expected to take place from 24th January.
Bullying in the Armed Forces
An inquest into the death of Cheryl James, held in June 2016, concluded that she had died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. When delivering his verdict the coroner Brain Barker QC said that the barracks had created “a dangerous situation and provided the opportunity for her to take her life” by failing to recognise “nor taking any steps to reduce, the potential risk of trainees using their service weapons against themselves.”
The need to protect vulnerable young recruits has also been highlighted in other more recent cases.
Gavin Williams, a member of 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment collapsed and died in 2006 after being subjected to an unlawful punishment commonly known as “beasting” at Wiltshire barracks. He was forced to take part in vigorous marches and then work out in a gym on a searingly hot summer’s day.
In 2011 Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement was found hanged after alleging that she had been raped by two Army colleagues at a barracks in Germany in 2009. An inquest into her death in 2014 concluded that bullying and harassment in the aftermath of the rape allegation had also played a part in her suicide.
Hopefully lessons can be learnt from these inquests and improvements can be made to protect individuals who are already vulnerable.
What should you do if you have been subject to harassment or bullying?
We understand, from speaking to current and former service personnel, how hard it can be to report bullying and harassment in the Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces have their own procedure for investigating incidents of this nature and it can help provide vital evidence which might determine whether or not an individual is successful in bringing a civil claim for personal injury caused by bullying and harassment.
A service complaint is the military equivalent of a civilian workplace grievance. It can be used to make a complaint about any of the following:
- Discrimination; and
- Career fouling
A complaint must normally be made within 3 months of the incident you are complaining about.