THE Government was last night facing unprecedented demands to order a public judicial inquiry into scores of non-combat deaths at British Army bases.

Families of soldiers found dead from gunshot wounds at Deepcut Barracks joined relatives whose loved ones died at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, and other bases to form a pressure group fighting for "truth, justice and change".

And it emerged last night that inquests into several deaths at Catterick could be reopened, as applications to the Attorney General are being drawn up.

Military lawyer Justin Hugheston-Roberts, representing the Catterick families, will ask this week for up to six cases to be heard again, following the jailing earlier this year of disgraced coroner Jeremy Cave.

They will include the case of Private Daniel Farr, who died in 1997, and Private Allan Sharples, who was found dead in April 2000.

The father of 17-year-old Geoff Gray, of Seaham, County Durham, one of four privates to die at Deepcut, in Surrey, said defence chiefs could no longer ignore the issue.

Geoff Gray said the 50 families' main aim, a public inquiry, could "achieve transparency" by bringing to light inquiry and investigation notes.

"We've been advised by lawyers that a public judicial inquiry into the death of soldiers whose families want to work within this group is feasible and realistic," said Mr Gray.

Lynn Farr, whose son Daniel died at Catterick in 1997, said: "Up to now the Deepcut and Catterick families have been split, but now we have brought everyone together to go for this public inquiry."

Their demands were backed by forensic expert Frank Swann, who spent six weeks at Deepcut investigating the young recruits' deaths.

He said it was "virtually impossible" that they had committed suicide and added: "I am not keen on using the word cover-up, but there has certainly been incompetence by certain people.''

The families met the day after police backed calls for a broader inquiry into deaths at Army bases after concluding there were no grounds for a criminal prosecution over the four Deepcut victims.

A £1m, 15-month inquiry by Surrey police found no evidence that the four privates were murdered.

But it concluded there were failings in the way that the Army deals with young recruits and also identified flaws in the way the Army and police investigate soldiers' deaths.

But Defence Minister Adam Ingram refuted the calls for a public inquiry, saying the deaths had already been subjected to intense scrutiny.