THE mother of a teenage soldier who was killed by a gunshot wound to the head at the notorious Deepcut army training base in Surrey is to launch a new High Court bid for a fresh inquest into his death.

Yvonne Collinson-Heath’s son James was shot in the face on March 23, 2002 while on guard duty. However, he was never issued with a gun because he was only 17-years-old – young soldiers are not assigned their own firearm until they are 18. His body was found next to an SA80 rifle belonging to another soldier.

Private James Collinson, from Perth, was one of four young army recruits to die at the Royal Logistic Corps Headquarters at the Princess Royal Barracks near Deepcut, Surrey, between 1995 and 2002. Private Sean Benton, 20, Private Cheryl James, 18, and Private Geoff Gray, 17, were all found shot dead in similar circumstances.

A review of the deaths by former judge Nicholas Blake QC in 2006 found that some recruits suffered “harassment, discrimination and oppressive behaviour”.

After Collinson’s death the army suggested he took his own life but the jury at an inquest in 2006 did not reach that conclusion and the coroner recorded an open verdict, which confirmed that the death is suspicious.

Collinson’s mother’s legal team have now obtained hundreds of files from Surrey Police, the force which investigated Collinson’s death in 2002.

Collinson-Heath, 51, who now lives in Cheshire with her second husband Malcolm Heath, expects her lawyers to submit new evidence to the courts, which could pave the way for a fresh inquest.

She said: “During James’ first inquest I was handed two Lever Arch Files containing statements, maps, guard orders, all that sort of thing. As far as I was aware, that was all that was available. That was back in 2006.

“Now we’ve had full disclosure and, wow, what a difference. There is much more material available than we ever had access to in the first inquest. The volume of evidence is just immense…there’s witness statements, photographs of the scene, maps, guard orders.

“It’s now a case of going through all of the new information we have and finding out if we have any new evidence. If there is, on that basis we try to have the original inquest quashed and we start again.”

The families of the other three soldiers who died at Deepcut have secured new inquests. In 2016 a second inquest into the death of Cheryl James, who died in 1995, returned a suicide verdict. A second inquest into the death of Sean Benton, which was originally ruled to be a suicide, began at the beginning of this year. And Geoff Gray’s family recently won a High Court battle to quash the original open verdict and a second inquest is now in planning.

Collinson-Heath has insisted James was not suicidal and has always questioned suggestions that he took his own life. He died just six weeks after he arrived at Deepcut.

When asked if if her son ever spoke about bullying or abuse at Deepcut, his mother said he described it as “part and parcel of army life”.

She said he once recounted an incident when a senior officer “kicked him down a muddy embankment for giving him cheek”.

She said James also spoke about guard duty. “He told me they just walked around the perimeter fence and watched for intruders,” she said. “He specifically said he wasn’t issued with a gun because he wasn’t yet 18.

“I asked how he would defend himself if something happened and he reassured me by saying he was never on his own. He said there was always someone with him who did have a gun. He said they would watch each other’s backs. That conversation rang in my ears for many years. It still does.”

Collinson-Heath is angry about the way Surrey Police handled the investigation into her son’s death and admits she “blames” the force for failing to find answers. The force was also criticised in a review by Devon and Cornwall police which found that investigating officers failed to follow up specific individuals who could have killed the soldiers.

She said: “There has to be somebody out there, who may or may not be in the army, who knows what happened to James. He was guarding the officers’ mess and there was a wedding there that night with 160 guests. Not one guest was interviewed by the police. And it was six months after James died before they found his cap badge in the bushes, after we had specifically asked them to search the area. We didn’t actually know it was missing until they did that search.

“During that search they also found a piece of Geoff Gray’s skull. He had been dead a year by then. James and Geoff died in very close proximity to each other when they were both guarding the officers’ mess. There’s something very strange about that, which is one of the reasons we also need a public inquiry. Up until now each death has been treated individually by the coroner but when you look at them together you can see similarities. That’s what we need to look at and only a public inquiry can do that. We want all four of them to be looked at in the context of the culture at Deepcut.”

She also accused Surrey Police and the Ministry of Defence of “covering each other’s backs”. “They say they investigated James’ death, but they absolutely didn’t,” she added. “They just assumed another one had taken their own life.”

Emma Norton, Head of Legal Casework at advocacy group Liberty, which represents Collinson’s family, said: “It’s awful that so many years after James’s death his parents still have unanswered questions about what happened to him.

“Through fresh inquests into the deaths of Cheryl James and Sean Benton, details of the appalling environment in which the young trainees lived at Deepcut barracks are being revealed, and we understand more about the terrible impact of Ministry of Defence decisions on those young lives – but it should never have taken two decades and the deaths of four young people before the army acknowledged or said sorry for any of this. And until there is a public inquiry a huge amount will always remain hidden from view.”

The Sunday Herald asked to speak to police officers involved in the investigation into the death of Collinson but a spokesman for Surrey Police said they had retired. He also said that the force has now disclosed all material relating to the investigation into Collinson’s death.

He added: “The arrangements for any new inquest, should one be ordered, are ultimately a matter for HM Coroner. Surrey Police will continue to support both the Coroner and those representing the Collinson family as any arrangements are made.”

An Army spokesman said: “Our thoughts remain with the family of Private James Collinson. We care deeply about our young trainees and take responsibility for their welfare very seriously.

“This is shown by the fact that Armed Forces training organisations are now subject to independent scrutiny by OFSTED inspectors, who support us in identifying further areas for improvement.”


Police files handed over to James Collinson's mother revealed that he had been “having a laugh” with colleagues and larking around with his girlfriend on the day he died.

During the process of sifting through CD-ROMS supplied by Surrey Police, Collinson-Heath learned more about her son’s final hours before he died from a gunshot wound to his head at army barracks near Deepcut.

The soldier’s mother also denied he was suicidal and insisted he was at the beginning of a promising career in the armed forces.

She said: “James’ death was such a waste of a happy-go-lucky lad who was achieving his dreams. The statements from people he had spoken to on the Saturday said he was having a laugh. That was very typical of James.

“One statement also revealed James was sitting on a bus waiting to go to guard duty on the day he died and he had gestured to his girlfriend using his hands to cheekily indicate what he’d like them to do later – let’s just say they were going to have a bit of intimacy – and she had laughed and waved. Someone who was suicidal wouldn’t have done that.”

James passed his driving test days before he died and talked about buying a car when he was at his mother and her husband’s house the night before his death.

Collinson-Heath said: “That Friday night there was nothing untoward. We chilled out, he had a few beers, I got his washing done. He was looking at cars with Malcolm. Then he phoned his dad in Perth and was talking about buying a car there and driving it back to Surrey. He would have been in Perth the following week for his sister’s birthday and he was looking online for a present for her too.

“On the Saturday morning he got up and had a bath, then ironed all his gear for guard duty. I remember him saying he wanted it spot on because the best presented soldier was excused from guard duty as a reward. My husband dropped me off at work at two o’clock, dropped James at the barracks at three o’clock and James was dead by ten o’clock that Saturday night.”

Collinson-Heath also revealed she was told she could only see her son’s body if she did not remove a covering.

“All I could see was his eyes, nose and mouth,” she said. “His head, neck and chin were very heavily bandaged. I was taken into a little side room beforehand and told by the coroner they would only leave me alone with James on the condition I did not uncover his body. I didn’t quite understand why she was saying that. I now think, with hindsight, his body was bruised.”

Collinson-Heath said James joined the army cadets in Perth when he was just 12. “You had to be 13, but he lied about his age and they didn’t check,” she laughed. “When he got to 15 he was going down to the army recruitment office asking them lots of questions about how he could get in. They must have been sick of the sight of him.” He duly joined up at 16. "But he was only at Deepcut for six weeks before he died," she said.

She will travel from Cheshire to Perth this week so that she can be at her son’s graveside, with her other two children, Stuart, 31, and Claire, 26. She added: “We’ll have family time together. I always like to talk about James. I won’t stop talking about him until I draw my last breath. If I’m not talking about him there’s a chance he might be forgotten, and I wouldn’t ever want that to happen.”


Sean Benton, 20, died after he sustained five gunshot wounds while on guard duty at a perimeter fence in June 1995.

Cheryl James, 18, was found dead with a bullet through her forehead in woodland outside the barracks in November 1995.

Geoff Gray, 17, was on guard duty near the officers’ mess when he took two bullets to the head in September 2001.

James Collinson, 17, suffered a single gunshot wound to his head while on guard duty near the officers’ mess in March 2002.