Ministry of Defence concedes failure to implement changes promised at the inquest into the death of Private Sean Benton


Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Jesse Nicholls acted for the family of the late Pte Sean Benton, who died at Deepcut Barracks in 1995, in threatened judicial review proceedings against the MoD arising from its failure to act upon assurances given at the inquest into Pte Benton’s death.

The inquest into Pte Benton’s death identified a toxic culture of abuse at Deepcut, including extensive and violent physical assaults, bullying and ritual humiliation against young trainees by the officers responsible for their welfare. During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed that inadequate monitoring had allowed such abuse to take place and trainees felt unable to raise concerns, including with the civilian police, even involving allegations of such a serious nature.

In considering whether to issue a Report to Prevent Future Deaths (PFD), the Judge Coroner hearing the inquest, HHJ Peter Rook QC, heard evidence from Brig Christopher Coles, the head of the Army’s personnel service group. Brig Coles assured HHJ Rook QC that the Army would ensure that all recruits would be informed that they could complain to the civilian police if they had been the victim of criminal misconduct. As a result of the Army’s public commitment at the inquest, HHJ Rook QC said he would not make a formal PFD report. The judge said he believed that the army had “relatively late in the day, recognised and addressed” the problem of recruits feeling they had nowhere to turn if they were assaulted.

During follow-up inquiries made by Pte Benton’s family, it emerged, over three years later, that the Army had failed to comply with its own promises to the Court. The Army were forced to accept that clear assurances had been made to the Coroner, the Coroner had relied on those assurances in deciding not to issue a PFD report, and those assurances had not been actioned: the revised induction materials for recruits did not exist, as a result of what was described in pre-action correspondence as “an oversight” and a “failure of communication”. These Army failings were only revealed when the MoD were faced with threatened judicial review proceedings by Pte Benton’s family. In response, the MoD were forced to apologise and to urgently rewrite their training materials.

The sister of Pte Benton, Tracy Lewis, has stated publicly that the Army’s conduct “feels like contempt” for the Deepcut families.

Jesse Nicholls was instructed by Emma Norton, Director of the Centre for Military Justice.

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