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Deepcut jury returns open verdict on soldier death

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Mar 11 (Reuters) An inquest jury investigating the death of a teenage soldier at the Deepcut barracks in 2002 returned an open verdict yesterday, prompting further calls for a public inquiry into deaths at the Surrey army base.

Private James Collinson was found dead at the barracks in March 2002 from a single gunshot wound while on guard duty.

The death of the 17-year old from Perth was the fourth fatality of a young soldier at the base between 1995 and 2002.

Friday's inquest finding at a coroners' court in Epsom, Surrey, was the third open verdict to be recorded on the deaths at Deepcut. All four died from gunshot wounds, and families contest the Army's conclusion no one else was responsible.

The coroner at Epsom, Michael Burgess, backed the families' call for a public inquiry, saying the Ministry of Defence had ''nothing to fear from an inquiry held in public''.

Speaking after yesterday's verdict, Collinson's father Jim said the coroner's remarks justified the families' demand for an inquiry by the government.

''What are they scared of? What are they frightened we would find out?'' he said. ''If you've nothing to hide, announce one.'' The family said a public inquiry would be able to examine evidence not available to the inquest jury.

An independent inquiry into the Deepcut deaths led by human rights lawyer Nicholas Blake is due to report later this month, but the family says its remit is inadequate.

Major General Andrew Graham, director general of the Army Training and Recruitment Agency, said the military and Ministry of Defence had cooperated fully with investigators.

''The Army train several thousands of troops every year and the quality of their training and welfare is among our highest priorities,'' he told reporters at Whitehall.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment further on the coroner's remarks that it had nothing to fear from an ''inquiry held in public''. The government says it is awaiting the outcome of Blake's probe.

A parliamentary inquiry prompted by the Deepcut deaths said last year the army was failing to tackle bullying and had to improve the care of its young recruits.

REUTERS DKS KP0902

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