Jesse Nicholls appears at inquest at which toxic culture, bullying and physical assaults at Deepcut Barracks are revealed

The Coroner hearing the inquest into the death of Pte Sean Benton at Deepcut Barracks has delivered a highly damning verdict on the toxic culture of abuse that existed at Deepcut – where Sean lived and was found dead from five gunshot wounds in June 1995. Jesse Nicholls acted for Sean’s family with Paul Greaney QC, instructed by Emma Norton, Head of Legal Casework at Liberty.


The Coroner’s findings included a series of serious criticisms of Deepcut, the Army and Surrey Police:

  • The Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in charge of Sean’s troop, Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan, physically assaulted and humiliated him on numerous occasions, including publicly in front of other trainees and NCOs.
  • Sergeant Gavaghan physically assaulted at least 10 other trainees – including violently assaulting teenage girls, assaulting a young male trainee with a broom handle, punching and kicking others, and smashing one trainee’s head on a radiator.
  • That both a Sgt and multiple trainees were able to repeatedly assault and humiliate trainees revealed a highly concerning regime: inadequate monitoring allowed this abusive and wholly unacceptable conduct to take place; and the fact that it took place demosntrated the inability on the part of trainees to raise concerns, even of such a serious nature.
  • Multiple NCOs used physically excessive or overly repetitive punishments at Deepcut that went well beyond legitimate sanctions.
  • The ratio of senior staff to trainees was “wholly inadequate”, with one NCO in charge of up to 400 recruits at times.
  • There was no welfare officer or welfare policy at Deepcut.
  • There was “ample evidence” available to NCOs that Sean was vulnerable and the Army knew in the period before Sean’s death that he was deteriorating badly. Despite this, no adequate support or welfare was put in place to help him.
  • A decision was made to discharge Sean from the Army. Senior officers knew that Sean would be devastated and that he would be at risk of impulsive self-harm. The Coroner found that there was a basic failure to prevent Sean accessing a weapon; had simple steps been taken, Sean would not have died.
  • The investigation into Sean’s death was “woefully lacking”. Surrey Police failed to take charge and investigate his death properly, with the most basic steps not taken. This significantly hindered the current investigation and meant that some questions could never be answered.


Liberty have commented on the case here and the conclusions have been widely reported, including: