Investigation into death of Robert Fleeting fuels fight for justice and change
There was never any doubt that Robert Fleeting would be a military man. As a youngster he watched with pride as his father served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and almost as soon as he was old enough he joined the Army Cadets.
When at last he was able to enlist Robert discussed his options with the father he went fishing with, watched movies with and shared a laugh with.
Initially he thought about joining an infantry regiment or becoming a weapons technician but decided to join the RAF. He thought that by becoming a firefighter he would have skills he could use in civilian life when he eventually left the military.
Robert had been in the Air Force for two years when he was posted to RAF Benson in Wallingford, Oxfordshire in January 2011. It was his first posting and Senior Aircraftsman (SAC) Robert Fleeting was ‘living the dream’. He was engaged to be married, making long-term plans for the future and enjoying life to the full.
Today his portrait, in full firefighter uniform, holds pride of place on the living room wall of the family home in East Kilbride. It is a poignant reminder to his family, as if they needed one, of the fun-loving, fair-minded, laid-back son and brother they have lost.
Robert died aged 24 in the service of his country on 4 September 2011. But it was not at the hands of a foreign enemy. His lifeless body was found hanging in his room at RAF Benson in circumstances his family are convinced remain highly mysterious.
For almost four year Charlie Fleeting (53), his wife Susan (54) and daughter Stacy Anne (24) have been battling to uncover the truth of how Robert came to be found dead just hours after enjoying a night out with friends.
According to the official version of events the newly-qualified RAF fire and rescue officer had gone out drinking in nearby Henley with other firefighters where they met up with a two female and one male paramedic from the same base.
After a night of dancing and banter Robert returned to barracks in the early hours. Witnesses say he had enjoyed a drink but was not drunk and appeared fully aware of his surroundings and actions.
Robert is then said to have gone back to the room of the male paramedic, whom he had never met before, for another drink. He apparently opened his heart to the stranger, confessed he didn’t get on with his father and then, one thing led to another, and the two men had sex. Until that moment nobody had ever suspected Robert of having any homosexual tendencies.
After the encounter Robert reportedly went back to his own room in a cheerful mood.
His body was found the next day, wearing a pair of jeans and boots with no socks, along with several notes which police were satisfied were written by Robert indicating he intended to take his own life.
The conclusion was that he was so overcome by the shame of his first homosexual encounter that he killed himself.
“It wouldn’t have mattered to us if he was gay,” said Susan Fleeting. “We have always been a very open family. We have gay friends and gay family members. It’s not something that would have bothered us.
“I find it difficult to believe that just hours after a first sexual experience he was so upset and confused that he took his own life.”
Even though the male paramedic, who changed his initial police statement twice, has always maintained Robert had sex with him and not the other way round the autopsy revealed Robert had suffered trauma to his anal passage. This fact was not revealed to the family until the inquest, several months after Robert had been cremated with military honours.
“If I had known that before the funeral Robert would not have been cremated,” said Charlie. “Nobody has yet properly explained to us how it happened.
“The pathologist said it was trauma from something being inserted into the anal passage. At first we were told Robert must have caused it himself by inserting a bottle or something but nothing was found at the scene.
“Then we were told it was a natural event as a result of the hanging due to the internal organs falling down but we’ve never been able to find anyone else who could confirm this is normal, especially as Robert didn’t suffer a drop. He was found hanging from a door.”
The family remain convinced Robert’s death was not properly investigated and that the verdict of suicide recorded by the Oxfordshire Coroner was influenced as a result.
Despite two investigations into the death; a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirming several serious flaws in the initial inquiry; and an admission from Thames Valley Police that the family did not receive ‘a good service’, the Fleetings feel they are no closer to finding the truth. They want a second inquest with a jury to re-examine all the evidence.
They believe there are too many unanswered questions, including;
*How did Robert suffer a trauma to his anal passage as highlighted by the autopsy?
*What were the ‘other injuries’ mentioned in the first Post Mortem report which the reference to was subsequently omitted when a second document was produced to ‘correct a spelling error’?
*Why were there no fingerprints on the suicide notes which the family doubt were written by Robert?
*What happened to the Police log, which should have detailed who attended the crime scene and the actions carried out, but has since been lost?
*How did 5ft 8ins Robert manage to hang himself from the door closing mechanism of a 6ft 6in door?
*Three types of DNA traces were reportedly found on the noose used in the hanging. One was Robert’s but what about the identity of the other two?
*Why did police accept the word of a key witness despite him giving contradictory statements?
“You can’t have a proper inquest if there has not been a proper investigation,” said Charlie.
“Thames Valley Police have admitted the investigation did not come up to their standards and that we, as a family, received a poor service. A thorougher job has not been done.”
A total of five notes were found at the crime scene. Four of them were found at the time while the fifth was discovered some five weeks later.
The notes, which were all written on envelopes, did not have any clear fingerprints on them and the Fleetings maintain the content is not consistent with their son’s wording or handwriting, even though the police said a forensic expert had confirmed there were similarities and suggested any differences in style were down to Robert being drunk.
“Robert and his sister were very close, he even had a tattoo of her and himself as babies on his back,” said Susan.
“Whenever he wrote home or sent a card he would mention his sister, usually using her nickname Teeny, but there was no mention of her in the notes. I find that very strange.”
The Fleetings also maintain that in the note to his fiancee Robert appeared to have started to spell her name wrong and used the pet name he gave to his previous girlfriend.
Also, at least one of the notes used the Scottish word ‘brung’ instead of brought.
“He would never have written the word ‘brung’, said Charlie.
“As a family we might use it in conversation with each other or friends but Robert would not have used it in a letter he would have written brought. He did not write in Scots, it was always proper English. It’s almost as if it was written to prove a Scotsman had done it.”
The family say they feel they were stereotyped from the beginning.
Charlie said: “I heard one police officer remark to a colleague: ‘See, not everybody from Glasgow is like Rab C Nesbitt’, and on other occasion there was a comment along the lines of ‘Jocks are all the same, drink too much and fight with their families’.”
The Fleetings fear their son may have been the victim of an initiation or prank which went wrong.
Although they have been told that such things do not happen they have received information from other members of the military about servicemen “choking each other out’ and even of one having an umbrella inserted into his anus.
“We reported that to police and they confirmed it had happened but said it had no bearing on Robert’s case,” said Susan.
“There has been a catalogue of errors from the start.
“After the deaths at Deepcut there was a review and a new set of procedures put in place to deal with any deaths on a military base. Not one of those new procedures was followed in Robert’s case.”The Fleetings are angry that if a convicted terrorist, paedophile or murderer dies while in prison or state hospital their families have the automatic right to an inquest in front of a jury to ensure complete openness.
“This rule applies to everyone apart from the MoD. The question has to be asked, Why?,” said Susan.
“We set up an online e-petition which we successfully managed to get raised in the House of Commons by MP Michael McCann in January but the election came along and held everything up. McCann is no longer our MP so we are hoping our new one will take up the fight.
“Although our Scottish regiments have been cut drastically this problem will arise in the future if we stay as a united nation. This is something the public should be aware of if their kids are joining up.
“There are less and less bases in Scotland and if any of our troops die in England then families face the same battles as we do. Everything comes under English law so any lawyer in Scotland is unable to help or assist in any cases and families have to travel south of the border to get any legal assistance which adds to an already expensive process.
“The Scottish Parliament has put measures in place if our children die abroad but this does not include England as we are seen as one nation even though the laws in England and Scotland differ greatly.
“This is a matter which should be looked into in greater depth. We will always have Scottish men and women serving within the forces and, unfortunately, non combat deaths will always occur. Scottish families face the added pressure of different laws and the need to seek help from English lawyers in an English court system.
“Our petition calls for a change in the rules so that any non-combat deaths on a government run base are fully investigated with full openness and transparency to allay any fears of conspiracies.”
The Fleetings fully acknowledge that whatever happens they will never be able to alter the past but they do believe they can prevent any other families going through some of the anguish they have had to endure.
“I know it might sound strange but in some way I would prefer to think my son did take his own life, rather than think that somebody else did this to him and hurt him,” said Susan.
“But the story we have been given just doesn’t add up and we’re not going to give up. We can’t grieve properly for Robert until we find out the truth.”
* More details on the Fleeting’s campaign can be found at http://justiceforrobert.weebly.com