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UK: Deepcut deaths: Public inquiry needed

Amnesty International renews call for public inquiry on eve of Nicholas Blake’s Deepcut report.

Ahead of the publication tomorrow of Nicholas Blake QC's report into the deaths of Privates (Ptes) James Collinson, Geoff Gray, Cheryl James and Sean Benton at the Royal Logistics Corps headquarters in Deepcut, Surrey, Amnesty International today renewed its call for a public inquiry.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“For too long the deaths of these young people has been shrouded in secrecy, leading to allegations that the truth has been covered up. The authorities should open Deepcut and other barracks up to a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of this.

“Equally important is the need to protect other young people serving in the armed forces. There should be an independent ombudsperson with whom recruits can discuss bullying or other problems; and ultimately the UK should ban the recruitment of under-18s altogether.”

In December 2004 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) appointed Nicholas Blake, a senior barrister, to urgently review the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Ptes Collinson, Gray, James and Benton - occurring between 1995 and 2002 - and to report accordingly.

Amnesty International is calling on the UK government to immediately set up an independent and impartial judicial inquiry held in public to probe the serious allegations that have emerged concerning Deepcut deaths. The inquiry should invite and seek out the views of the families of the deceased and the opinions of experts, and should meet in public and publish its findings and recommendations.

Amnesty International believes the inquiry needs to address and make recommendations about the context in which the deaths have taken place so that further fatalities may be prevented.

In addition, Amnesty International recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the UK authorities should:

* institute an effective, independent and impartial complaint mechanism with which complaints concerning serious allegations of bullying, sexual harassment and other ill-treatment can be lodged without fear of reprisal (for example, a military ombudsperson)

* ban, in all circumstances, the recruitment into the UK Armed Forces - and deployment into hostilities at all times - of those under the age of 18

Amnesty International notes that on 10 March a jury returned an open verdict at the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Pte James Collinson. The Surrey Coroner Michael Burgess said:

“My own personal view .... is that the MoD should take whatever steps are necessary to restore public confidence in the recruitment and training of young soldiers whether at Deepcut or elsewhere. I personally believe that they should have nothing to fear from an inquiry held in public (if that is what is necessary) where the various issues outside the direct causation of the deaths of James and others can be explored in greater depth.”

In November 2004 the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about “reports of incidents of bullying followed by self-harm and suicide in the armed forces, and the need for full public inquiry into these incidents and adequate preventive measures”.

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