Parents hopeful new inquest into death of Cheryl James at Deepcut Barracks will give answers
A family from the Shropshire border today spoke of their hope that a new inquest into their teenager daughter's death, 21 years after she died, will finally give their answers they have never stopped demanding.
Bright and bubbly Cheryl James was found with a gunshot wound to her head in November 1995 just days into her basic training at the Deepcut Army Camp in Surrey.
Three weeks later her still shocked parents Des and Doreen James, who now live in Llanymynech, travelled down to Surrey for a brief inquest.
There was no forensic evidence - neither her clothes nor even the bullet that killed her were used in evidence and no fingerprints taken at the scene.
The coroner returned an open verdict at the original inquest.
The grieving couple could not let the matter lie and when they learned about similar deaths at the camp they began asking questions.
Her mother could never believe Cheryl would ever take her own life. And she could not understand why Cheryl's diary which she always kept, was not returned with her other possessions.
Their determination not to give up led to a review of four deaths in 2002 and a second review in 2006.
Des James could have walked away then but refused.
And on Monday Cheryl's death will be re-examined in minute detail in a second inquest that could last up to 12 weeks.
More than 100 witnesses will either give evidence or have their statements read to the court and new post mortem evidence will be revealed following the exhumation of her body last summer.
Fragments of bullet recovered during that process apparently do not match the army issue bullets for Cheryl's weapon.
And new evidence following heartfelt appeals by her parents suggest that she may have been sexually exploited by senior rank soldiers shortly before she died.
Mr James said: "I want to see the inquest underway now. The feeling of achievement that at last someone will listen is at times overpowering. It is a good feeling in horrendous circumstances."
" At long last I will be able to stand up in front of all those people, in front of a judge and for the first time I will be able to tell my story.
"We are not afraid of what will come out in court. Nothing can hurt us now and it certainly cant hurt Cheryl."
Mr James says the response to an appeal for new evidence has been overwhelming and harrowing.
"I can understand why people didn't come forward in 1995. There would have been aged 17 and 18 and very afraid to speak out," he added.
"I have been appalled at the horror of what went on such as people beaten to within an inch of the life. But who would they have told? Certainly not the Military Police."
A recent Freedom of Information request to Surrey police showed that 60 people had made allegations, allegations that Mr James says were not investigated.
He said: "Even in 2002 when there was the re-investigation these people were still young, 24 and 25 and many were still in the forces.
"Now they are in their 40s, out of the arm and many will be parents themselves. They have the courage to stand up and say that awful things were happening before Cheryl died and after she died.
"In 2002 Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram would not accept there was a culture of bullying and told us that an inquest was the place were that sort of allegation should be aired.
"Now we have an inquest and the MOD is fighting tooth and nail for such suggestions not to be aired in the court. We are going round in complete circles.
"Why do I feel that the MOD, which was responsible for her care, and Surrey Police, which investigated her death, are both against me."
When people accused Mr James of conjuring up a conspiracy theory he stuck to his guns. And it was a series of coincidences that eventually led to the international campaign group, Liberty, taking on the case.
"The legal team that we have is extraordinary. I often come off the phone from them and think Thank God they are on my side. they have been ringing, three, four, five times a day with updates for us."
"They came on board thanks to playwright, Philip Ralphs and his play Deep Cut. It was so good it went to London where it was seen one night by someone who had been to school with the coroner. He was so overcome by the play he returned the next night with five or six of his colleagues and told them 'all we need now is a good barrister' . One of them had a friend - who went on to become our barrister. She in turn was good friends with the director of Liberty and she contacted the organisation which has now taken over our legal representation."
Mr James says he continues to be concerned that that evidence of the alleged culture of bullying at the army base would be allowed at the inquest, which is being held in Woking.
"The MOD seems to be doing everything in its power to protect itself," he said. It doesn't want one word issued about Deepcut, one word about the allegations of a bullying culture."
"How can you not mention that when it is so intrinsically linked with Cheryl's death?"
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