The sister of a private who committed suicide at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey has paid tribute to her ‘kind-hearted’ brother.
At Woking Coroner’s Court this morning, Judge Peter Rook QC concluded that the 20-year-old from Hastings committed suicide. The judge delivered a narrative verdict severely criticising ‘serious failures in the duty of care’ at Deepcut Barracks where the young soldier’s body was found 23 years ago with five bullet wounds to the chest. Click here for the full story.
Tracy Lewis is Pte Benton’s older sister. Along with his twin brother Tony Benton, Tracy applied for a second inquest in July 2015 which was granted in October 2016 – carrying on the hard work of their mother Linda, who died in May 2015 after getting Surrey Police to release evidence they held about his death.
On the court steps, Tracy read out the following statement: “Our brother Sean was funny, generous and kind-hearted. He loved his family. And he loved the British Army too.
“Sean’s Grandad had been in the Army and in his application form to sign up, Sean said he wanted to travel the world and support peace-keeping overseas.
“Instead, what he got was bullying, violence and a terrible lack of care.
“When his mental health fell apart, the people in his chain of command who should have looked after him either did nothing – or made things worse.
“After it was decided that Sean wasn’t right for the Army, he was humiliated, assaulted and bullied.”
She claimed her brother’s superiors ‘turned a blind eye’ to his treatment.
She went on to say: “The Coroner also found today that excessive discipline, violence and inadequate welfare all wore Sean down and affected his ability to cope.
“I know my brother and I have no doubt that these factors will have contributed to his decision to take his own life.
“When the Army finally decided to throw him out, they knew how devastated and vulnerable he was – but did little to make sure he was okay. Even when he asked for help, those who should have cared for him ignored him. So he was able to get a gun and shoot himself.
“The Judge today found that, had basic precautions been taken that night, Sean would not have been able to get hold of a weapon and do that. Sean was frightened, humiliated and alone.
“In the last few months of his life, Sean had nowhere to go. If there had been a good, independent complaints system, or if he had known he could have reported the assaults he suffered to the police, he might have got the help he needed. But at Deepcut, the people who were causing him terrible problems were the same people he would have had to ask for help. So he was stuck.
“The Army will say things are different today. I don’t believe enough has changed.
“If Sean – or a vulnerable young man like him – joined the Army today, I worry that he could go through the same thing. I fear that another family today would have to endure what mine has for 23 years. Our soldiers are still subject to an inferior, second-class justice system – less fair, less thorough and less independent than the civilian one.
“We miss Sean every day. My parents both passed away before we were able to get a fresh inquest for him. The questions we asked at this inquest were the ones my parents were asking 23 years ago. But because Surrey Police failed to do what they should have done, and take control of the scene and investigate properly at the time, years of pain have been caused to my family.
“Being able to finally question those we have always feared played a part in our brother’s death has been a hugely important process for us as a family.
“We will be asking the police to open a criminal investigation following the Judge’s findings today.
“We want to thank Judge Rook QC for the extremely careful and fair way in which he has considered all the evidence and for his acknowledgement that, after all these years, our family’s campaign was entirely justified.”