County news: Family seeks new inquest for Deepcut soldier from Sussex
A fresh inquest into the death of a Sussex soldier, who died at the Deepcut barracks 21 years ago, has taken one step closer.
The Attorney General has given consent for the family of Private Sean Benton to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquest into the circumstances around his death.
Liberty, acting on behalf of Pte Benton’s twin brother Tony and sister Tracy Lewis, lodged a formal application with the Attorney General on July 8 last year, requesting that the original inquest of July 1995 be quashed and a fresh one ordered.
Sean, from Hastings, was the first of four young recruits to die of gunshot wounds at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002.
The Attorney General’s decision comes shortly after the conclusion of a three-month inquest into the death of Pte Cheryl James, who was found dead at the Surrey barracks in November 1995.
As in that case, the application for this inquest was made possible only after Sean’s mother, the late Linda Benton, used the Human Rights Act to persuade Surrey Police to disclose vital evidence about her son’s death.
Sean Benton, 20, was found on 9 June 1995 with five bullet wounds to his chest.
The day before he died, he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army.
Sean’s death was investigated by the Army’s internal police force, the Royal Military Police, rather than by civilian police.
The initial inquest – which his family estimate took less than two hours and took place one month after his death – heard evidence from just six people.
Liberty said Sean’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought concerning his experiences at the barracks. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.
As with the other Deepcut deaths, a criminal investigation carried out by Surrey Police in 2002 and 2003 concluded there was no evidence of third-party involvement.
In 2012 Liberty, acting on behalf of Sean’s mother Linda, used Article 2 of the Human Rights Act to insist that Surrey Police give her access to all evidence held by the force about her son and his death.
They agreed to disclose all relevant material – a process that concluded in 2015. Mrs Benton died in May 2015.
In the years following Sean’s death, many people have claimed they believe he had been the victim of physical and psychological bullying while at Deepcut.
Tracy Lewis, Sean Benton’s older sister, said: “We have been overwhelmed and disturbed by all the details of the shameful environment at Deepcut which have finally come to light through the Cheryl James inquest – it is terrible to think of Sean alone there.
“More than two decades after our brother died – and having lost both our parents in recent years – Tony and I are determined to find out what happened to Sean.
“We thank the Attorney General for granting us permission to go ahead and look forward to the day when we may finally discover the truth.”
Emma Norton, lawyer for Liberty and solicitor for Tracy and Tony, said: “Sean’s family have waited 21 years for this moment – and it is a source of immense sadness that his parents are not here to take this vital next step in their search for justice.
“If Sean’s death had been properly and independently investigated in 1995, decades of pain and uncertainty would have been avoided.
“It was Sean’s late mother Linda who used the Human Rights Act to secure access to materials held by the authorities about her son.
“Her surviving children can now take the case forward for their parents and, most importantly, for their brother Sean.”
Liberty will now apply to the High Court for a new inquest.
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