Suicide note from Deepcut Army private revealed

Private Sean Benton (pictured), of Hastings, East Sussex, was found with five bullet wounds to his chest in June 1995 while undergoing training at the barracks in Surrey 

A young Army private who shot himself at Deepcut barracks left a heartbreaking suicide note saying he was too embarrassed to go home.

Private Sean Benton, aged 20, fired two shots at a corporal before turning the gun on himself, an inquest heard today.

He was the first of four young recruits to be found dead at the notorious Army barracks between 1995 and 2002.

Former instructor and Falklands War veteran Major Paul Ward told the new inquest into the soldier’s death that he was inspecting the canteen on the morning of June 9 1995 when he was informed of Pte. Benton’s shooting.

He went to the guardroom where he was confronted by a ‘shocked’ looking Corporal Martin Holder who gave him a chilling account of how Pte. Benton had fired shots into his chest.

‘A young soldier [on guard duty] had come to the guardroom and said she had been relieved of her post by Pte Benton and was told to go back up to the guardroom as Sgt Andrew Gavaghan wanted to see her,’ Major Ward told the coroner’s court in Woking, Surrey today.

Last month his sister Tracey Lewis (pictured with Sean's twin brother Tony in January 2018) told the court he had been 'jailed' for 10 days for breaking a window, 'shackled, made to parade around the canteen...embarrassed and humiliated'

Last month his sister Tracey Lewis (pictured with Sean’s twin brother Tony in January 2018) told the court he had been ‘jailed’ for 10 days for breaking a window, ‘shackled, made to parade around the canteen…embarrassed and humiliated’

‘Corporal Holder became suspicious and went down in a Land Rover with a duty driver and at some stage recalled he said shots were fired, as he arrived or before he arrived.

‘He was probably in shock as he was telling me this. He then went to the back of the tennis courts and saw Pte. Benton. He tried to talk him out of what he was doing and tried to get the weapon off him by talking him around. But he turned the weapon on himself and fired it into his chest.’

The inquest heard that Major Ward had told Surrey Police officers in 2002 that Pt Benton had fired two shots at Cpl. Holder.

However, he began to doubt his account when the police officer ‘screwed his face up’ as if to say ‘I haven’t heard that before’, he told coroner Judge Peter Rook.

Earlier, the inquest heard how Pte. Benton had written a note to Troop Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan where he apologised for ‘what he was doing’ and how he felt he was ‘bursting into flames’.

The note read: ‘To Sgt Gavaghan, I’m sorry for what I’m doing but I just can’t accept being discharged. I’m too embarrassed to go home and I don’t want to be on civvie street and I don’t want to have a factory job.

Today Brigadier Chris Coles (pictured outside coroner's court) apologised to Sean Benton's family and said young recruits weren't always looked after how they should've been 

Today Brigadier Chris Coles (pictured outside coroner’s court) apologised to Sean Benton’s family and said young recruits weren’t always looked after how they should’ve been 

‘I just wanted a career in the Army. I know it’s my fault for things I’ve done wrong. Only if I got a week’s leave when I applied for it things could have been different. I could have calmed down instead of building problems up and then getting drunk and bursting into flames.

‘I’m leaving my Spurs shirt to Private Williams. I think it needs washing. It’s just got marks of polish on. By the way, can you thank Sgt Russell, Sgt Stevens and yourself and Sgt Pike for helping me out when I was in trouble. I didn’t mean to say you were an arsehole, it just came out without me thinking about it. Benton.’

Earlier in the day, the coroner heard from witness former corporal at Deepcut, Martin Barrow, would organise the guard duty rota alongside other corporals.

He described Pte. Benton as ‘happy go-lucky’ but said that he stood out as he had ’emotional problems.’

‘Through a report from troop staff I heard he had been crying, was self-harming and had been referred for psychiatric assessment,’ he said.

‘I would often hear reports that he had been in tears but I can’t recall why. In comparison with other recruits, he certainly wasn’t alone in being upset.’

Asked by coroner’s counsel Bridget Dolan if staff talked among themselves and were aware that Pte. Benton was in tears more than other recruits, he said: ‘Yes, definitely.’

However Mr Barrow said troop sergeants and the system showed a lack of empathy for his issues.

He told the inquest how Pte. Benton had been removed from guard duty a ‘significant number of weeks’ before his death as he was a danger to himself.

‘I wasn’t given a specific reason, but I made the assumption it was because of the psychiatric reports that he was vulnerable,’ said Mr Barrow.

The inquest heard how records showed Pte. Benton was removed from guard duty from February 10 to April 20.

The coroner had previously heard allegations that the young recruit was bullied by Sgt. Gavaghan who would regularly ‘beast’ him – the process of subjecting a new recruit to harsh treatment in order to instil discipline.

Mr Barrow described him as an eccentric and unique character with a serious temper, who would use his legend of having an evil twin brother to instill fear into recruits.

Sean Benton is pictured with his parents before his death aged 20 in June 1995 

Sean Benton is pictured with his parents before his death aged 20 in June 1995 

Today brigadier Christopher Coles, head of the Army's Personnel Service Group, said there were several things that should have been done a lot better at the time of Pte Benton's death at Deepcut (pictured) 

Today brigadier Christopher Coles, head of the Army’s Personnel Service Group, said there were several things that should have been done a lot better at the time of Pte Benton’s death at Deepcut (pictured) 

He told how on numerous occasions he would see him lose his temper after he had dealt with recruits and would come back into the office shouting, kicking bins and throwing trays and paperwork around.

Mr Barrow agreed when asked if Sgt. Gavaghan’s behaviour would make it difficult for recruits to come talk to him but said had seen Pte. Benton confide in him on many occasions.

‘I saw that and would see at times where Sean would ask to see him or was speaking to him privately where Sgt Gavaghan would essentially take him under his wing,’ he said.

‘He would tell him what was wrong and what problems he had and Sgt. Gavaghan would say he would do his best. When Sean was told he was to become a pioneer, he told him it was not the end of the world and there would be other opportunities further down the line to come back and do his driver training, which he wanted.’

Sgt. Gavaghan told other officers that if Pte. Benton ever had an issue then he should be referred directly to him, the inquest heard.

‘To this day, I believe he had a genuine concern for Sean’s welfare,’ said Mr Barrow.

‘But I didn’t believe Sgt. Gavaghan had the capacity to deal with welfare issues of that nature – on hindsight [he didn’t] because of what happened, because a life was lost.’ 

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