The family of a North East soldier found dead at the controversial Deepcut Barracks say they are at last close to knowing who killed their son.
Geoff Gray, from Seaham in County Durham, was just 17 when he was found dead with two gunshot wounds to the head in September 2001.
His parents Geoff Snr and Diane have fought a lengthy battle to prove he and three other soldiers found dead in similar circumstances were killed, rather than taking their own lives.
Evidence that could finally shed light on what happened could finally be made public as their barrister John Cooper QC has been granted access to extensive police files on the case for the first time.
Fresh hope for the Grays came yesterday when the family of Cheryl James - who was found dead in similar circumstances - yesterday was given the green light by the High Court to launch a legal bid to quash her inquest verdict because of fresh evidence.
Diane said: “It’s been awful waiting all this time but at last we’re hopeful to get justice for Geoff.”
The Deepcut story began in June 1995 when Private Sean Benton, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found dead with five bullet wounds to chest. An inquest returned a suicide verdict.
In November that year Private Cheryl James, from Llangollen, Denbighshire, was also found dead with single bullet wound to head, resulting in an open verdict. Then followed the death of Private Gray, found dead with two gunshot wounds. Five shots were fired, but three bullets never found.
In March 2002 Pvrivate James Collinson, from Perth, was found dead with single gun shot wound. Again an open verdict was returned.
Geoff’s original inquest lasted just four hours. A single folder of evidence was produced containing just 20 pages of notes.
Yet it has now been revealed that documents and other evidence relating to all four cases are being kept in a hangar in Sussex.
Mr Gray said: “The parents of Cherly James have been given 40 volumes of documents from the police - and that’s not including the army files.”
Their counsel, Mr Cooper, was told there was material which would reveal “not only how Geoff died, but at whose hands”.
“It’s come from a very creditable source that there is documentary information within the armed services,” he said.
Mr Cooper revealed that he has been in contact with Surrey police who have agreed to hand over their files on Geoff’s case as they have done to the family of Ms James.
“We’re going down exactly the same route as the James family (to quash Geoff’s inquest verdict). Mr Gray was told he didn’t require legal representation at the original inquest. And despite this the coroner still recorded an open verdict.”
He added: “I have always said the issues relating to Deepcut were analogous to that of the Hillsborough families heroic fight to get information. At Deepcut there was a culture of secrecy within the MoD. They are still very defensive.
“They like to be in charge and give orders. They don’t like it when people ask them questions.”
The original investigations into the deaths have long been criticised.
Criticisms included the lack of proper forensic examination of any of the scenes, the bodies or the weapons. In Geoff Gray’s case, the firearms log had been shredded and there was no way of knowing whether the weapon found at the scene was even his, or even if he had fired it at all.
The Grays say the answer to the riddle of his death is based around reports of a soldier that night acting in a strange manner, revealed in the Board of Inquiry in the matter.
“He was very jittery and didn’t know what to do with himself,” said Diane. “He was saying: ‘I’m ready to kill, I’m ready to kill’.
“He was told to make his weapon safe. There were bullets in the chamber and the gun was warm. It shouldn’t have been warm, unless it had been fired, as it was a cold night.”
Devon and Cornwall Police reviewed the Surrey Police’s investigations into Deepcut and its 140-page report said that Surrey was aware of a number of theories suggesting that specific individuals, some of whom were named, could have killed the soldiers.
However, the review team concluded that it was impossible to establish whether or not the individuals should have been considered suspects or eliminated from inquiries.
Mrs Gray, who is now living with her husband in London, said: “It’s hard but I have managed to keep a distance. I look on it like a story, a story that is still unfolding, and maybe the story will have an ending now. Not a happy one but a satisfactory one. That we finally get justice for Geoff.”
In 2006, amid calls for a public inquiry, the Labour Government commissioned Nicholas Blake QC to review all the evidence, including the Surrey files and all the other evidence that the families were complaining had not come out.
In 2006 he concluded that all the deaths were probably suicide even though the barracks was being described as out of control and rife with bullying whilst rules, even those governing weapons, were being flouted.
Mr Cooper said they were still battling for a public inquiry in the matter.
An MoD spokesperson said:
“Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of Private Gray. We cooperated fully with the civilian police investigation and the coroner’s inquest at the time, and implemented a number of significant improvements following the independent Deepcut Review. We would of course continue to cooperate should we be asked to do so.”