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Secrets from the grave

Barry Keevins photo
Barry KeevinsLondon
Secrets from the grave
Were the clues to unravelling the mystery of Cheryl's death buried with her?

Secrets Cheryl James took to the grave could be revealed when her coffin is opened.

Cheryl died 20 years ago and clues which could prove how she was killed have lain undisturbed ever since.

The young soldier has been on guard duty before she was found dead near an entrance to the British army base at Deepcut, Surrey.

She had been shot once in the eye.

Now nearly abandoned, Deepcut was the scene of four deaths by shooting of young soldiers between 1995 and 2002.

The army decided all four had killed themselves.

The second inquest into Cheryl's death will open in early 2016 and a decision on whether or not Cheryl will be exhumed could be announced at a pre inquest hearing in September.

"These early assumptions by Surrey Police in 1995, however, meant that there was no ballistic testing of the bullet to confirm if it had been fired from Cheryl’s weapon," Blake said.

According to the Blake Report, which reviewed all the evidence then available, a sketch plan, photographs, spent cartridge and a magazine with one missing round, led to an early conclusion Cheryl died from a single round fired by her rifle at close quarters.

"These early assumptions by Surrey Police in 1995, however, meant that there was no ballistic testing of the bullet to confirm if it had been fired from Cheryl’s weapon," Blake said.

"A post-mortem was carried out at 10.30hrs on 28th November 1995 and the subsequent report dated 29th November recorded the cause of Cheryl’s death as “gunshot wound to the head.”

Four Royal Military Police (RMP) were at the post mortem, no Surrey police presence was recorded.

Fatal shot did not come from her gun

RMP investigators at the post mortem reported fragments were recovered from Cheryl's head during the examination.

These fragments have not been seen or reported by any of the reinvestigations or reviews which followed.

Liberty, the human rights lawyers who represent three of the four families, say they need Cheryl to be exhumed for a second examination to look for more fragments.

Tests on any fragments still in Cheryl's head could reveal the fatal shot did not come from her gun.

Military ammunition is often colour coded to help with identification.

Alison Foster QC told a pre inquest hearing the bullet fragments in her body were yellow, while experts said the SA80 rifle she was armed with were issued with red bullets.

Miss Foster, representing the family, said any bullet fragments still lodged in her head could prove crucial.

"There is no actual evidence that it was an SA80 that caused the bullet wound to Cheryl," she said.

No exit wound

The muzzle velocity of the SA80 is just under 1km per second (930m/s to 950m/s or 3051 feet per second to 3116.8 feet per second) depending on the rifle variant.

This is the speed a standard 556 NATO bullet is travelling when it leaves the gun.

Fired at close range, the bullet should pass straight through the head.

Evidence of gases and propellant would also be present.

The resulting cavities would cause the skull to split apart.

Photographs taken at the scene show Cheryl lying on her back with her right eye pushed out of its socket.

Blake noted; "There was no exit wound, which is unusual for such a high velocity rifle, but the subsequent Surry Police re-investigation has revealed expert evidence that a bullet fired into the forehead can become unstable in its trajectory and may be deflected from passing straight through the skull."

Violent death

Surrey police were present at the scene shortly after Cheryl was found.

A Home Office registered pathologist is usually required to carry out a post mortem examination if there is any indication the death may have been violent or unexpected.

Families have the right to have a representative present during the post mortem examination.

It can take days to organise post mortem examinations when civilian authorities are involved.

The post mortem was carried out and a cause of death established and recorded with twenty four hours of the time when Cheryl is believed to have shot herself.

The only people recorded as being present were four RMP personnel.

Blake also confirmed there was no testing of Cheryl’s hands or her black marks on her forehead.

Cheryl’s clothes were not examined.

A pathologist examining the victim of a fatal shooting to the head would be looking for any number of clues and evidence including marks on the skin, broken bones and the tracking of the bullet through the brain.

After 20 years, a second post mortem examination would be unlikely to yield any new evidence other than bullet fragments.

"There are missing gaps and I am unable to explain to [myself], just as I believe her father is unable to come to terms with how it is that a girl, who one moment seems to be bubbly and outgoing, should the next moment have been found dead with a bullet in her.”

Surrey coroner Michael Burgess recorded an open verdict weeks after Cheryl was killed.

He admitted he was not satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt Cheryl had taken her own life.

He said: "There are missing gaps and I am unable to explain to [myself], just as I believe her father is unable to come to terms with how it is that a girl, who one moment seems to be bubbly and outgoing, should the next moment have been found dead with a bullet in her.”

Nicholas Blake QC concluded in 2006 Cheryl’s death was consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

#Cheryl, #Deepcut

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