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Deepcut and the Quest for Answers

Barry Keevins photo
Barry KeevinsLondon
Do inquests uncover truth?

At the start of an inquest, the coroner will usually make a short speech telling everybody present what the hearing is for and what they are doing there.

Most of the people in the room will have heard this speech, or similar, many times before.

Coroners like to be clear.

They like people to know they are in court to establish facts.

The coroner explains the purpose of the inquest hearing is to decide who died, where and when they died and how they died.

From the start, there are limitations on what can be achieved but these limits are also there to constrain the process to its stated purpose.

What happens after the inquest is out of the coroner's hands.

Most people will go through their entire lives without ever coming into contact with the justice system.

Others will have to battle and campaign for their day in court.

Beverley Radcliffe at the Coroners' Courts Support Service said the bereaved and witnesses find themselves setting out on an inquest either not knowing what to expect or expecting something completely different.

The CCSS is a volunteer organisation which helps families understand what is going on after the loss of a loved one.

"People often come to coroner's courts having no idea at all what to expect.

"They think somebody might be found guilty and all of these other misconceptions because they're basing it on their knowledge of the criminal courts.

"We try to reassure people it's not about apportioning blame, it's not about being found guilty.

"We all like to think that things happen for a reason and that they're not just completely random or there isn't anything anybody could do because that makes the world a scary place to live in.

"Particularly when there are deaths in custody or deaths in hospital, we have expectations of people that are often unrealistic.

"Because people don't understand what the coroner's court is about, they sometimes go with the idea that somebody will be found guilty.

"Then they can feel frustrated that it's got such a narrow remit that it's ineffectual in finding somebody guilty or finding an organisation liable for the death."

In 20 years, a lot has been written about Deepcut.

The facts, as we have them now, are four young people were found shot to death while doing their basic training for the British Army at the Princess Royal Barracks near the Surrey village.

All four had inquests.

A coroner decided one of the four had committed suicide and the other three verdicts were left open.

Early next year one of the inquests will be reopened.

Cheryl James was the only female recruit of the four and her family have been searching for 20 years to find answers.

Cheryl was a teenage girl from Llangollen in north Wales - the new inquest will confirm.

She died from a single gunshot wound to the head - the new inquest will confirm.

The inquest is there to establish facts, not provide answers.

Answers come later.

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