Unsolved Murders

Cheryl James

Age: 18

Sex: female

Date: 27 Nov 1995

Place: Deepcut Army Barracks, Deepcut, Surrey

Cheryl James died at Deepcut Army Barracks in Surrey.

She was shot in the head.

Her body was found at 8.30am on 27 November 1995. Although it was said that it was impossible to say exactly when she was shot, it was thought that she had shot herself five minutes earlier at 8.25am.

Her SA80 rifle was found nearby along with a spent cartridge. However, it was also heard that there was no exit wound for the bullet in her head and that there was a lack of blood on the ground. It was said that when she was found she was in the foetal position in a copse and had a tree branch across her face which was then covered by her jacket hood. It was then stated that any of those features should have aroused suspicion regarding her death, but even more so all of them together.

A man that had been at the scene said that people had already decided that she had committed suicide and that they were just going round picking everything up and that the scene was not preserved in any way.

He added that it struck him at the time that her gun was lying near to her in a position that suggested that it had just been laid there. He said, 'I presumed the weapon had been moved because it was away from the body and looked like it had been laid down beside the body, It was something later that stuck in my mind. It was away from the body as if it was laid there'. He said that when he was first told that Cheryl James had committed suicide that he thought to himself, 'no way would she have taken her own life'.

Another nurse who saw the rifle lying beside Cheryl James's body said that she thought that it had been placed there too.

Her initial inquest in December 1995, which lasted for 1 hour and involved 7 witnesses, returned an open verdict, but new forensic evidence suggested that she might not have shot herself and that she might have been shot by someone else, and a new inquest was ordered in 2014.

There had also been a re-investigation into her death in 2002 in which many new people were questioned.

The new inquest in 2016 heard that the post-mortem had found yellow bullet fragments in her body although the bullets given to Surrey Police for analysis by their German ballistics experts were red.

However, the 2016 inquest, which concluded on 3 June 2016, ruled that she had committed suicide.

However, her parents said that they refused to accept that she had killed herself.

At the time that she was shot she had been alone on guard duty. Her duties would have involved checking ID cards and raising the gate for vehicles.

The second inquest heard that Cheryl James had a preoccupation about death and that she had at one time light-heartedly talked about how easy it would be to shoot oneself at the barracks and had sometimes talked to her friends about who she would want at her funeral.

It was also heard that gunshot residue was found on her hand and face and determined that she had been in contact with the gun when it was fired.

However, it was also heard at the scene of her death was not properly examined and that the evidence collected was incomplete. It was also heard that bullet fragments were not preserved, the clothes she had been wearing had been disposed of and that her post-mortem had not been thorough.

The 2016 inquest heard that she didn't like being in the army and wanted to leave. Evidence was heard from her diaries stating that she wanted to leave the army and that she planned to feign migraines to achieve that. However, the inquest stated that on the balance of probabilities, it was not thought that her dislike of being in the army at Deepcut Barracks was enough to have alone to have caused her to want to die.

The coroner at the 2016 inquest said that there was no evidence that Cheryl James's body had been moved from where it was found beyond that carried out by the people that came to examine her, and that there was no sign of a struggle.

However, it was also heard that both the army and the emergency services had concluded almost immediately that she had committed suicide and that as such the scene was not preserved, ballistic tests were not carried out to determine that she had been shot with her own gun and that no forensic post-mortem was carried out.

It was also reported that at the time she was shot, an unknown white male had been seen in the area, but that the police had failed to identify the man.

The coroner also stated that the failures at the scene of her death and in the examination of her body had compounded to fuel speculation regarding how she actually died, noting that in the absence of direct scientific evidence, the experts investigating the case were left to form conclusions without complete evidence.

The inquest heard that there was a rule at the barracks stating that women should not be on guard duty alone, but it was heard that very few people at the barracks were aware of the rule. It was also heard that guard duty was handed out as a punishment to trainees, even though it was also against army rules.

The inquest also heard that many of the soldiers became bored at the barracks and would turn to sex, alcohol and drugs. It was heard that whilst sexual relations between recruits was not against the rules, that the extent to which they were able to have sex at the barracks was inappropriate and the atmosphere there was sexualised.

It was heard that Cheryl James had written in her diary about having 11 sexual partners at the camp and noted that at the time of her death she had been in a love triangle with two other men and that one of them had told her on the morning that she died that she needed to make a decision about which one she wanted to remain with in a long term relationship. It was heard that the situation had resulted in Cheryl James being known as a slag at the barracks. However, in her diary, in which she wrote about her sexual encounters she wrote, 'Now I feel like a slag but it was good so who's complaining'.

Her diary included references to sex with a married corporal, a sergeant, a marine, a man whilst she was on guard duty, and a time when she was with a friend and met two men that they each had sex with and then swapped to compare experiences.

However, the inquest heard that there was no evidence that the army or regime at Deepcut Barracks had sexualised her or that she had been the victim of sexual harassment. It was noted that there were several other unfounded accusations including that she had been forced to have sex with another soldier, a story which was then said to have been carried over into the press which stated that she had been a sex slave and had been forced to have sex with the officers.

One report in the Guardian newspaper stated that a former soldier had said that Cheryl James had been ordered by a superior to have sex with another soldier hours before she was found dead. At the inquest, the soldier was accused of lying, with it being said that he had not given that story when he was first questioned in 2002 but then went to a newspaper with his story a month later, and that his story had many discrepancies. However, he said that he had not initially said anything about the matter because he was scared of the sergeant who he said put the fear of God into everybody. However, he said that suffered PTSD and that he had carried the guilt of Cheryl James's death with him for 22 year and that it had destroyed him and his marriage. He also added that his memory, at the 2016 inquest, was clearer than it was in 2002. He said that he had not been paid to go to the newspaper and had done so because he felt that details about Cheryl James's death were being buried.

It was also heard that she had told a friend a couple of times that she thought that she had been pregnant.

A doctor at Deepcut Barracks said that she had an increasing number of recruits coming to her for the morning after pill and abortions. She said that many woman were also coming to her complaining of feeling depressed or demoralised and for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. It was heard that there was allegedly a room set aside for people to have sex in and that about 8000 condoms were found littered about the grounds each year.

The boyfriend that had given her the ultimatum to decide who she was going to commit to a steady relationship had gone to see her on guard duty on the morning she died. He said that he saw her at about 7.30am and spoke with her for about 45 minutes. The soldier said that he gave her the ultimatum to choose between him and the other soldier but said that he told her that if she chose the other soldier that they could still be friends. He had been caught the night before in bed with Cheryl James naked by the other boyfriend who was Cheryl James' regular boyfriend. The boyfriend denied that the conversation was a showdown with her or that he had been hiding whilst in the guard cabin, stating that he had been sitting down when he was seen. He was seen by an army major who cycled by and then pretty much escorted the soldier back to the barracks noting that he should not have been in with Cheryl James whilst she was on guard duty.

When the soldier was asked if he had shot Cheryl James, he said 'No'. He said that he didn't see her get shot and wasn't present at the time as he was in the smoking room. He noted that neither did he hear the shot and noted that nobody heard the shot.

The inquest heard that there were not enough officers and corporals to manage the recruits and that at one point there was just one corporal for 200 trainees and one officer for 300-400 recruits. It was also noted that whilst females accounted for 25% of trainees, there had only been two female officers that they could go to to discuss issues and personal problems.

The inquest also heard how Cheryl James was allegedly raped by two boys when she was 14-years-old and that she had taken an overdose of paracetamol after her 18-year-old cousin committed suicide in 1992. She was also an adopted child and had previously run away from home twice before she moved out when she was 17-years-old.

A childhood friend said that when she spoke to Cheryl James a while after she had been at the Deepcut Barracks she had told her that she hated being in the army and said that she had complained to her about being put on guard duty so much, which was a form of punishment at the barracks.

An army brigadier who was head of Army Personal Services, later admitted that there was a 'highly sexualised atmosphere' at the barracks and a general abuse and misuse of power, conceding it could be a 'morally chaotic environment' for a teenage woman.

A police inspector for Surrey Police also later acknowledged that they had failed to examine the scene in a number of ways and apologised. he added, 'Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I had to make that decision again, I would have without a doubt taken a different course of action'. It was noted that they had not taken statements from either of her lovers at the time she was found dead.

The Surrey police also said that new pathological evidence that revealed the possibility of a third party being involved in her death was speculation in the extreme.

Deepcut Army Barracks is also known for three other suspicious suicides and deaths, those of James Collinson, Sean Benton and Geoff Gray, and also for Obrien Mario Clarke, a soldier, who was shot dead in London whilst on leave from the barracks. Sean Benton was shot five times in the chest about five months earlier. His death was also determined to have been a suicide in a case that was similarly re-examined in 2016 after the 1995 verdict was quashed.

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