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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Emotional day for Red Cap families
By Paula Dear
BBC News in Oxford

Bereaved mother Pat Long is comforted
The inquest was an emotional experience for the relatives
The verdict of unlawful killing in the inquest of six Red Caps killed by a mob in Iraq brings to an end for relatives three weeks of painful evidence.

John Hyde's eyes fill with tears as he briefly steps away to take a deep breath and gather himself.

Talking about his son Ben hasn't got any easier with the passage of time.

The 23-year old lance corporal was one of six Royal Military Policemen (RMP) to die at the hands of an Iraqi mob in June 2003, at a police station in Majar al-Kabir.

One thing Mr Hyde is certain about is that the focus on those they believe are responsible for the RMPs' deaths will not simply fade away.

"I spent 23 years looking after my son and I am going to spend the rest of my life doing it," said the 58 year old, from Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

His mum had gone to get the bunting to put up to celebrate him coming back, and had asked the neighbours if we could put it across their house too
John Hyde
Ben Hyde's father

Nearly three years after his son and five colleagues were killed, an inquest into the deaths has churned up every raw emotion and brought every grim detail to the fore over the last few weeks.

In the dispassionate setting of Oxford Coroner's Court, their families have endured listening to more than anyone should ever have to know about the circumstances of a loved one's violent death.

The inquest's conclusion on Friday brought no real sense of closure, they agreed, but was merely another step in their long quest to do the right thing for "the lads".

The relatives sat upright and composed, straining to hear as the quietly spoken local coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, confirmed he found the men had been unlawfully killed and read his statement to the packed court.

Poor communications

Reg Keys - one of the most outspoken in the families' campaign - frequently bent over to take notes.

They were all waiting for the slightest hint that the coroner agreed with them that there had been failings in the chain of command and poor communications on the day the men died. As far as they were concerned he backed their criticisms of the Army, saying as much as they had hoped for within his powers.

Mr Hyde, the only relative to represent himself at the inquest rather than use a solicitor, said he was satisfied with what the coroner had said but saw it as only one part of a legal process to bring people to account for what happened.

John and Marilyn Miller
The families have not yet found closure

The grieving process, however, has no end, he says.

Ben Hyde, 23, died 18 days before he was due to come home from Iraq.

"His mum had gone to get the bunting to put up to celebrate him coming back, and had asked the neighbours if we could put it across their house too," says his father John.

In one of his last letters he joked with his parents: "Have you got a brass band ready for me when I come home?"

Mr Hyde breaks down again as he reveals the Northallerton Silver Band has since dedicated a piece of music, called Yewcoat, to Ben.

Soldier sons

For two of the families involved - the Keys and the Millers - there is an extra incentive to get to the bottom of why their children were left, as they see it, to die without hope of rescue. Each still has a son in the armed forces.

"We can't afford to lose another son," said John Miller, whose youngest, Simon, died, aged 21, at Majar al-Kabir.

Ironically, as everyone files from the coroner's court, John and his wife Marilyn are desperately awaiting a call to tell them their oldest son Jon has landed safely from Afghanistan at nearby RAF Brize Norton.

Despite the proximity to Oxford, they will not be able to see him until he returns to England from his home in Germany next month. But to know he is safe will be enough for now, says his mother Marilyn.

We just exist, nothing is the same
John Miller

"I've got all my banners and ribbons for him coming home. It's the ones I bought for Simon," she says.

The inquest process has been stressful and desperately sad, she adds. The most harrowing part was listening to the post-mortem details.

Although the families had read the reports, they became somehow more real by being read out loud, she says.

"There was one thing I hadn't realised, which was that it looks like Simon and Tom were beaten up. That was not a picture I had previously had in my mind, but now it will be in my mind forever.

"At one point I had to come out of the court, I could not listen any more."

Families' closeness

The couple's life has become unrecognisable since Simon's death, says Marilyn's husband John.

"We just exist, nothing is the same."

Recently he watched as two friends laughed and joked while getting their golf clubs out of the car. It was a Friday afternoon, and they seemed so carefree, says John.

"I thought to myself, 'I don't even remember the last time I felt like that'."

Anna Aston
Relatives heard harrowing details of the men's death

The families, three of them in particular, have become incredibly close and give each other strength.

Anna Aston, 34, who lost her husband Russell in the killings, is grateful for the support from her own family and the others involved, not least as she is now bringing up the couple's four-year-old daughter Paygan alone.

"She doesn't understand what's happening now, but I am saving all the newspaper clippings and statements for her so she can look at it when she's older," says Anna.

She says the inquest process has been difficult, like being "slapped in the face".

"You don't always understand how you are feeling at the time, but looking back on the inquest now it's like the last three years have just been condensed into three weeks, you relive it all.

"But we will keep going to get the answers we need, and whatever the outcome we will have the dignity of knowing we did everything we could to get the justice the lads deserve."

See how families reacted to the inquest verdict

Eyewitness: Walls riddled with bullets
25 Jun 03 |  Middle East

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