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Piecing the fragments together

Barry Keevins photo
Barry KeevinsLondon
Piecing the fragments together
Secret exhumation and second autopsy

In the early hours of Monday, August 10 coroner's staff and experts gathered at a small, rural graveyard in north Wales.

Five weeks before, Brian Barker QC made an order for the exhumation of Private Cheryl James.

At the request of her family, news of the decision to carry out a second autopsy 20 years after Cheryl was killed was kept secret.

The body was removed from the cemetery for the examination to be carried out.

The next day, close family gathered with the local vicar and archdeacon from the Church of Wales for a short reburial ceremony.

Dad Des James described the events as distressing.

Metallic fragments which the family hoped would be found still lodged in her head were recovered during the examination.

Police and army have always maintained the teenage soldier took her own life.

The SA80 assault rifle Cheryl carried during her guard duty on the morning she was killed in 1995 was never tested and no bullet was matched to it and bullet fragments recovered from her head during the first autopsy have been lost.

Ballistic tests on these shards of metal could reveal whether or not Cheryl was killed with a weapon similar to the one discovered next to her or a different gun entirely.

Prof Derrick Pounder for the family and Dr Nat Cary for the coroner were present during the exhumation and carried out the autopsy jointly.

A preliminary report from the pathologists was sent to the court earlier this week and further advice is being sought on what steps to take next.

Another expert will be chosen to carry out ballistic tests before final reports are completed.

The second inquest into the death of Cheryl James at the Deecput army barracks will begin in the new year.

She was one of four young soldiers found shot to death at the camp between 1995 and 2002.

The army and police maintain all four were suicide.

At a pre inquest hearing in Woking, Surrey on Thursday, lawyers for the James family voiced the concerns about who should deliver expert witness testimony when formal evidence is taken.

Alison Foster QC said the ballistics expert should have no connection to the Ministry of Defence or Surrey police as both would be the subject of some criticism when the inquest starts.

The witness list for the inquest is expected to run to around 90 names.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed they are making progress contacting potential witnesses.

They are ploughing through around 500 documents which could be relevant and will be prioritising files relating to policy.

Speaking after the hearing, Cheryl's father Des James said: "The thing I feel most strongly about is that there are still lots of people with evidence to give who have not yet come forward to this inquest.
"Please, please if you have anything relevant to say regarding Cheryl’s untimely death, take this as our final opportunity for us to discover what really happened to her."

Another pre inquest hearing is scheduled for mid December.

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