Sean Benton

A fresh inquest into the death of a vulnerable young soldier at Deepcut barracks will examine whether he was hounded to death by "bullying and harassment".

However, the family of Private Sean Benton, 20, raised concerns that questioning of a retired sergeant over his conduct may be curbed and called on a jury to decide the case.

Mr Benton, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found with five bullets in his chest in June 1995, shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army.

A Royal Military Police investigation led to an initial inquest finding of suicide even though no evidence was given about his experiences at Deepcut.

Deepcut barracks
Pte Benton was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the barracks between 1995 and 2002.

At a fresh pre-inquest hearing at the Old Bailey, a 10-point list was presented widening the scope to look at all the circumstances of his death.

It includes the details of how he died and whether there was "any third party action" involved in the death.

Mr Benton's "state of mind" will be probed, as well as the impact of how he was assessed and disciplined during his Army career.

The management of his discharge and its effect will be examined, and whether he was "subjected to bullying and harassment at Deepcut".

The inquest will look at any "systemic shortcomings" in relation to supervising trainees and managing their mental health.

Potential failings in the areas of guard duty and provision of weapons would also be examined, the court heard.

Retired Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan will be among 120 witnesses called to give evidence either in person or in a written statement.

Coroner Peter Rook QC noted the family of Mr Benton want an inquest jury to decide the case and said he would rule on the matter in July.

Paul Greaney QC, for the family, said: "Sean's death raises questions of, we suggest, acute public importance about state responsibility in the death of a vulnerable young soldier and the unwillingness for decades to investigate that death and find out how Sean came to die.

"A jury would not only actually be independent of the state but would be, critically, seen to be independent of the state.

"Sean died whilst under the control of the state in circumstances in which his movements and environment were tightly controlled by the state.

"Sean was subjected to repeated and serious physical and mental abuse by state agents, namely other soldiers.

"There is evidence Sean may have been fired on or exchanged fire with other soldiers."

A further pre-inquest hearing is due to be held on September 20 and a full inquest is expected to take place at Surrey Coroner's Court in Woking from January 24 next year.

Mr Benton's sister Tracy Lewis and his twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015 which was granted last year.

Before the hearing, Ms Lewis said: "It's been 22 years since we lost Sean, so it's bittersweet that we are only now starting to get some answers about what he went through at Deepcut barracks.

"It's a real tragedy that our parents are no longer with us after they fought so long, and it's a scandal that Sean's death was not properly investigated at the time.

"We have faith in the newly appointed coroner and hope that he will help us to uncover the truth."