Page last updated at 01:41 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Iraq war bereaved give views on inquiry

The inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war starts hearing evidence later, with its investigation expected to continue until late next year.

Sir John Chilcot, the retired civil servant leading the inquiry, has said there will be no "whitewash" and promised a report "that is frank and will bear public scrutiny".

Family members of service personnel killed in the Iraq campaign and a protester against the war describe their feelings about the inquiry.

PETER BRIERLEY, FATHER OF L/CPL SHAUN BRIERLEY

At a service honouring personnel who served in Iraq at St Paul's Cathedral last month, Peter Brierley refused to shake former Prime Minister Tony Blair's hand.

Peter Brierley

Mr Brierley, whose 29-year-old son, L/Cpl Shaun Brierley, died in a road accident in Kuwait in 2003, considers Mr Blair a war criminal with "blood" on his hands.

"The deaths of 179 soldiers in Iraq, but also the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Iraqi people who died, the destruction of a country - he's responsible for that," Mr Brierley says.

Mr Blair would say the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was right, but invasion to achieve regime change is illegal, Mr Brierley says.

"He condemns himself every time he says he got rid of Saddam Hussein."

Mr Brierley is hopeful that Sir John's investigation will offer answers about the war, and that any evidence of illegality could prompt repercussions.

L/Cpl Shaun Brierley
L/Cpl Brierley died after his Land Rover was involved in a road accident

"The reason for going to war needs to be checked and if anybody is responsible for that then they need to be brought to book," he says.

"There are also the mistakes that have been made - mistakes in the equipment, obviously funding, the amount of people they had, the plans that they had to go in and get out.

"That all needs to be sorted out so that it cannot happen again."

The stream of dead and wounded personnel now returning from Afghanistan suggests these lessons still need to be learned, he says.

"It's the same problems: the lack of equipment; there doesn't seem to be any planning. It's exactly the same problems as it was with Shaun."

BRIDIE SPICER, MOTHER OF PTE LEON SPICER

Bridie Spicer's continuing concern for military personnel and their families, four years after her son Leon was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq's Maysan province, determines her attitude towards the inquiry - she feels it should not be happening now.

"If my son was in Afghanistan, I wouldn't be very happy that we were spending money on having an inquiry on Iraq, while they are still out there struggling for equipment," she says.

"At this moment in time the money would be better spent on equipment for troops out on the front line."

Pte Leon Spicer

While many bereaved relatives have expressed anger towards the government for going into a war that cost their loved ones' lives, Mrs Spicer says she has never felt angry or bitter.

"Our son joined the Army, he signed on the dotted line. He was so proud to be a soldier."

She adds: "Maybe it's because my son wasn't sent, maybe that's the difference - he fought to go to Iraq.

"He had been off with a broken leg, but was missing all his comrades. He went to do his duty for his country."

She believes it would dishonour her son and his utter dedication to the Army, as a private in the Staffordshire Regiment, to seek scapegoats for the 26-year-old's death.

"All I have ever felt for Leon is pure pride," she says.

"He used to say to me: 'If anything happens to me, I don't want you to be bitter or I'll haunt you.'"

Ultimately, the inquiry can never fulfil her sole wish regarding the war, she adds.

"It will change nothing whatsoever for us as a family; our son is gone. They can't bring him back."

ELSIE MANNING, MOTHER OF STAFF SGT SHARRON ELLIOTT

Elsie Manning describes Sir John Chilcot, whom she met with other relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq, as "easy to talk to" and says that he "appeared to listen".

She hopes the inquiry head will produce a "truthful and honest" report from his investigations, but questions whether it will deliver the "accountability" she wants.

"Who's going to be accountable for it all? And what's going to happen at the end when the final result comes out?

Staff Sgt Sharron Elliott

"Is it just going to be a whitewash? Is there anything going to be done about it?"

Mrs Manning's daughter, 34-year-old Staff Sgt Sharron Elliott, died in an attack on a patrol boat in southern Iraq in 2006.

The Iraq war inquiry will be worthwhile if it offers lessons for the future, Mrs Manning says.

She believes nothing has been learned from past conflicts such as the first Gulf War, the Falklands War and the conflict in Northern Ireland.

"It's all right having these inquiries and for someone to sit at the other side of the desk and listen and write everything down, but where does that leave us?

"Where does that leave the families? Where does that leave the soldiers who are serving now?" she says.

"Are things going to change or are they going to leave it as it is?"

Mrs Manning speculates that the inquiry could lead to Tony Blair and members of his government facing war crimes charges over the 2003 invasion.

"I think that Mr Blair and his cabinet and the MoD should be held accountable, and we should have some say in what happens at the end of [the inquiry]," she says.

CARON LINDSAY, ANTI-WAR PROTESTER

Caron Lindsay went on a march against the Iraq war, with her husband and then three-year-old daughter, in Glasgow in February 2003. She doubts whether the inquiry will be fully independent.

Caron Lindsay
Caron Lindsay says she is prepared to give the inquiry a chance

"Because of the consequences of the war - that we went to war on a false premise of weapons of mass destruction - I would have liked to have seen the whole thing done in front of a judge," she says.

"Someone who had the power to punish those who have done something wrong and bring people to justice.

"I'm not convinced the government has done anything with this inquiry other than get out a big pot of whitewash.

"It should be an independent inquiry, but it's not that. If I was to be investigated about something, I wouldn't get to choose the person investigating me."

Ms Lindsay says her feelings about the war have changed little in the six years since she went on the march.

"It was the first time I had ever been on anything like that. Deep down I think people thought it wouldn't change anything but we had to give it a try, and I'd do the same again.

"It was totally against the political decision to go to war. I have nothing but admiration for the troops that went out there to do their job.

"I feel that everything we were worried about when we were protesting against the war has come to pass.

"It hasn't made us any safer and it's damaged Britain's international standing in the world. If there had been a better building of an international coalition things might have been different."

She is prepared to give the inquiry a chance but is dubious about its worth.

"I think we have to give the inquiry a go but at the moment I'm not convinced it will achieve much."



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