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Pte Sean Benton: Deepcut soldier's death was suicide, coroner rules

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Pte Sean Benton was the first of four young soldiers to die at the base
The death of a young soldier at Deepcut barracks 23 years ago was suicide, a coroner has ruled after a new inquest.Pte Sean Benton, 20, from Hastings, was found with five gunshot wounds to his chest at the Surrey army base in 1995.He was the first of four young recruits to die between 1995 and 2002, with his death originally recorded as suicide.Delivering his conclusions at Woking Coroner's Court, Judge Peter Rook QC said three suicide notes were found after his death."I'm satisfied that the fatal wounds were self inflicted," he said.
He said the first round injured the soldier, but that a second round - fired by Pte Benton when two officers arrived at the scene - proved fatal.Notes to his friends and family were found afterwards, which Mr Rook said revealed his "settled intent to die".
Pte Benton's sister and brother Tracy Lewis (right) and Tony Benton (left) were at the court to hear the coroner's conclusions
In a note to his parents, Pte Benton said: "I'm sorry, I'll always love you all", while in a note to a friend he said: "Learn by my mistakes."The coroner described a litany of failures with the original investigation into Pte Benton's death, and said he was hampered by a failure to preserve evidence, poor photographs of the scene, and a lack of scrutiny of eyewitness accounts. "Even by the standards of 1995, the investigation into Sean's death was woefully inadequate."Summing up, Mr Rook said: "There was ample evidence available to those at Deepcut that Sean was vulnerable."The new inquest has heard evidence from more than 170 witnesses since it began in January.It was ordered following a campaign by Pte Benton's family, amid allegations of prolonged bullying at the base.
Pte Sean Benton: Deepcut soldier's death was suicide, coroner rules

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Over the years, families of the soldiers continued their campaigns
Shortly after the inquest began, the Army apologised to Pte Benton's family and said there were "a number of things that could and should have been better".The inquest had heard Pte Benton died shortly after being told he was going to be discharged. Former recruits told the hearing of bullying and harassment at the base - at one stage, Pte Benton confided in his sister he had been "shackled" and made to parade around the canteen.Deepcut was described as an "oppressive place" with claims that "beasting" was taking place, along with humiliating punishments and physical and mental abuse.
Who were the Deepcut fourSoldier death probe in 1995 'inadequate'
Army recruit 'shackled' at barracks
Mr Rook said the ratio between instructor and trainee at Deepcut was "a constant concern", and there were "not enough staff to keep the trainees properly occupied".
A first hearing led to a finding that Pte Sean Benton - seen here as a young teenager - killed himself in June 1995
Exploring Pte Benton's early life, the coroner repeated evidence of how as a teenager in 1991 he twice took drugs overdoses after rowing over the tidiness of his bedroom.The court heard he was not deemed to have any deep-rooted psychiatric issues.
'Boring and repetitive'
Mr Rook went on to tell the hearing of how during his time at the barracks witnesses observed a shift in Pte Benton's demeanour, with the common theme being "he was not as bubbly as he used to be".During a three-month warning period, he took an Anadin overdose, and it was "notable" a psychiatric assessment did not trigger a full review, he said.Pte Benton's mother also remarked to police that he phoned home less often and had described Deepcut as "boring and repetitive".However, he denied being bullied when asked by her in the month before he died, Mr Rook said.He said there was "no doubt" Pte Benton was "on the receiving end" of punishments by senior officers, describing "a toxic culture".
The inquest heard of Sgt Gavaghan's "twin brother persona"
The conduct of Sgt Andrew Gavaghan - one of Pte Benton's instructors - was key in the investigation into his death, Mr Rook said.He had an alter ego and was prone to changes in temper, and the inquest had previously heard accounts of physical and verbal abuse by him.He said at times Sgt Gavaghan "did lose control of himself", but not all witnesses spoke ill of him."But a closer check should have been made on Sgt Gavaghan's [treatment] of the trainees. "It's clear this lack of appropriate monitoring contributed to his abuse of authority," Mr Rook said.However, he stressed: "This is an inquest, not a trial of Sgt Gavaghan."Sgt Gavaghan has denied allegations of abusive behaviour.
Hastings
Deepcut deaths
British Army
Deepcut
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