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Pte Sean Benton inquest to rule if soldier shot himself

The sister of a young soldier shot five times in the chest at Deepcut army barracks 23 years ago says her brother complained after being ‘shackled and humiliated’ at the base   (Private Sean Benton, 1995)

The sister of a young soldier shot five times in the chest at an army barracks 23 years ago says her brother complained of being ‘shackled and humiliated’ at the base before his death.

Private Sean Benton, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest in June 1995 while undergoing training at Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

Tracy Lewis told the hearing her brother said he had been jailed by the army after being thrown through a window, and that the years of stress following Pte Benton’s death at the Surrey army camp had contributed to the early death of their father, Harry Benton.

Mother Linda and younger brother Lee also died without knowing their 23 year campaign for a fresh inquiry had succeeded.  

Pte Benton was 20 when he was shot five times in the chest. 

A second inquest, ordered after the High Court quashed the orginal verdict of suicide, opened at the Coroner’s Court in Woking on Tuesday.  

Tracy Lewis said the years of stress following Mr Benton's death at the Surrey army camp had contributed to the early death of their father, Harry Benton, during an inquest on Wednesday (Tracy Lewis and Tony Benton, the sister and twin brother of Sean Benton)

Tracy Lewis said the years of stress following Mr Benton’s death at the Surrey army camp had contributed to the early death of their father, Harry Benton, during an inquest on Wednesday (Tracy Lewis and Tony Benton, the sister and twin brother of Sean Benton)

‘He told me he’d been jailed for ten days,’ Mrs Lewis said.

‘Shackled, made to parade around the canteen. He was humiliated, embarrassed. I should’ve questioned him more but I was naive, didn’t know any different.’  

Asked by Paul Greaney QC for the family if he had used the word shackled, Mrs Lewis said: ‘He used that word. He was made to parade around the canteen and that had embarrssed him and he felt humiliated.’

Adding: ‘He declined to eat his dinner and asked to go back to the cells.’ 

Private Benton was the first of four young soldiers who lost their lives at Deepcut by shooting between 1995 and 2002. 

A second inquest for fellow recruit Cheryl James in 2016 concluded she had taken her own life. 

In a statement read to the court, Mrs Lewis said the impact of her brother’s death was immediate and profound. 

‘It changed the course of all of our lives, my mother never got over it and I’m sure the stress contributed to my father’s early death,’ Mrs Lewis said. 

Pte Benton was the first of four young soldiers to die at the barracks (pictured) between 1995 and 2002. Mrs Lewis said at the inquest her brother had been: 'Shackled, made to parade around the canteen. He was humiliated, embarrassed'

Pte Benton was the first of four young soldiers to die at the barracks (pictured) between 1995 and 2002. Mrs Lewis said at the inquest her brother had been: ‘Shackled, made to parade around the canteen. He was humiliated, embarrassed’

Mrs Lewis said there had been a terrible lack of information from the army, Ministry of Defence and Surrey police following her brother’s death. ‘This made it much worse for us,’ she said in a statement in January this year. 

‘I have no agenda other than to find the truth,’ she said. 

Proceedings were originally conducted months after his death, with a hearing finding that he took his own life.

However, the ruling was quashed after campaigning by Pte Benton’s family, who believe he was the victim of severe bullying.

The new hearing is taking place at Surrey Coroner’s Court this week.

The original inquest, which was told Pte Benton was being discharged from the army after a series of disciplinary problems, took place in just a couple of hours.

But this week’s hearing is expected to last for months, with 150 witnesses being called.

Former comrade of Pte Benton, John Paul Stone, announced he would be giving evidence on Facebook.

He said: ‘I was there 94-95 with Sean, and myself and other friends will be going to give evidence. I really hope the truth comes out.

‘It’s changed radically since I was in because of the modern-day PC brigade. 

‘Even though it was tougher back in the 90s that’s no excuse for the dark s*** that happened at Deepcut.’ 

Pte Benton was the first of four young soldiers to die at the barracks between 1995 and 2002.

Private Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, North Wales, shot herself in November 1995, according to a second inquest into her death that concluded in June.

Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Hackney, east London, was found dead with two gunshot wounds to his head on September 17 2001, and Private James Collinson, 17, from Perth, was found dead with a single gunshot wound through his chin on March 23 2002.

Pte Benton’s  twin, Tony Benton, and sister, Tracy Lewis, went to London’s High Court after they were given permission to apply for a new hearing.  

They were granted the fresh inquest in October 2016 and speaking after the ruling, Mr Benton and Mrs Lewis wept and said: ‘We are just happy and relieved. It’s been too long.’

The original inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, and a criminal investigation seven years later found no evidence of third party involvement.

Pte Benton's twin, Tony Benton, and sister, Tracy Lewis, campaigned to get a fresh inquest into their brother's death

Pte Benton’s twin, Tony Benton, and sister, Tracy Lewis, campaigned to get a fresh inquest into their brother’s death

But Pte Benton’s medical and mental health records were not obtained and no evidence was sought or given about his experiences at Deepcut.

Mr Justice Collins said that a considerable amount of fresh evidence had come to light which cast ‘some doubt’ on the correctness of the original finding and there was also material which concerned the care which was afforded to Private Benton by the Army at the relevant time.

The new hearing was made possible by Private Benton’s mother Linda who, before her death last year, used the Human Rights Act to access evidence held by Surrey Police. 

Speaking in 2016, Mrs Lewis said: ‘Our family had just 20 years with Sean. 

‘It has taken us another 21 to secure the thorough, independent inquiry we should have seen immediately after his death. For that reason, our parents are not here with us to see this day.

A former comrade of Pte Benton, John Paul Stone said 'dark s***' took place at Deepcut barracks (file photo, soldiers on exercise at the base)

A former comrade of Pte Benton, John Paul Stone said ‘dark s***’ took place at Deepcut barracks (file photo, soldiers on exercise at the base)

‘For two decades, our family has been tormented by questions about what Sean went through at Deepcut. If his death had been properly investigated in 1995, we would have been spared years of uncertainty and pain.

‘It should be a source of huge shame to the Ministry of Defence and Surrey Police that our mother had to fight for so long – far longer than she should have had to – to force the authorities to answer basic questions. We look forward to finally discovering the truth.’

Following the first day of an inquest which will last until Easter, a spokesman for the Army said Sean Benton’s death was a tragedy and apologised to his family. 

‘The Army deeply regrets the death of Private Sean Benton on the 9th June 1995. ‘His death was a terrible tragedy. 

‘The Army apologises for the shortcomings at Deepcut in 1995. ‘We took too long to recognise and rectify the situation. 

‘The Army is not afraid to be open and honest and to be held accountable for its actions, whether in training or on operations. 

‘We care about our soldiers above all else, they are the Army. 

‘Nobody wants to know more than we do what can be done to reduce the risk of a tragedy like Private Sean Benton’s death happening again.’ 

 

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