Page last updated at 18:52 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Gordon Brown apologises over condolence letters

Gordon Brown: "I want to send my heartfelt condolences"

The prime minister has apologised "unreservedly" to families for delays in sending condolence letters after they lost loved ones in Afghanistan.

It comes after the father of Pte Jack Sadler, 21, of Exmouth, Devon, complained his letter had arrived two years after his son's 2007 death.

Downing Street has admitted two other families were not sent letters in 2007.

But it knew of no letters missed in 2008; and said Mr Brown had written to all bereaved families this year.

'Grief and sadness'

The prime minister said it had been an "unacceptable error" for letters not to be sent and he "apologised unreservedly".

"I can only apologise to those families and I want to send my heartfelt condolences to them," he said.

"They have my profound thanks for the invaluable contribution that their loved ones had been making to make Britain safe and I understand their grief and their sadness at a time when they have lost so much."

Trooper Jack Sadler
Pte Jack Sadler was killed in Helmand Province in December 2007

Last month, Mr Brown was criticised by a bereaved parent for misspelling her son's name in a condolence letter.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We can confirm that the prime minister has written to the relatives of the three servicemen who lost their lives in 2007 but who had not previously received letters.

"These letters were sent together with an apology from the Permanent Secretary at No 10 Downing Street.

"To the best of our knowledge, there are no outstanding letters from 2008. We can also confirm that the prime minister has written letters to all the families bereaved in 2009.

"A new system has been put in place to ensure there will be no repeat of the errors made."

'Administrative mistake'

In the letter to Ian Sadler a member of Mr Brown's staff apologised for the "distress" the error had caused.

His son, Pte Jack Sadler, of the Territorial Army, was killed on 4 December 2007 when his vehicle hit a landmine during a reconnaissance patrol checking routes for an impending operation in Helmand Province.

Ian Sadler: "I thought it was a bit late, it's the second anniversary tomorrow"

Mr Sadler told BBC Radio 4's The Report he had received a handwritten letter from Mr Brown on 17 November 2009, along with a typed apology from an aide to the PM.

"Jack was killed on 4 December 2007 and I received a letter of condolence from the prime minister with no date on it on 17 November 2009," he told The Report.

"I have a letter apologising, not from the prime minister, but from Jeremy Heywood who is his permanent secretary, apologising that an administrative mistake resulted in my not receiving a letter from the prime minister.

"It's not good is it? Nearly two years later and the PM hasn't apologised, just his aide."

Mr Sadler added: "It goes to show what this present administration thinks of our soldiers."

Former serviceman

In his letter, Mr Heywood said: "This issue has only just been brought to the prime minister's and my own attention; and the prime minister wanted to write to you at the earliest opportunity to correct the mistake that was made."

Gordon Brown's letter of condolence to Ian Sadler

He added: "Please accept my and the prime minister's apologies for the distress this may have caused and my most sincere condolences for your loss."

Last month Jacqui Janes criticised the prime minister for misspelling her son Jamie's name in a letter of condolence he sent her following his death.

At the time, Mr Brown said he sends a handwritten letter to every family.

Mr Sadler, a former serviceman, has already written to the Ministry of Defence complaining about other mistakes.

He said the MoD had incorrectly named his unit on the medal certificate, called his son a "tropper" instead of Trooper on an official document and that they were going to put the wrong cap badge on his son's headstone.

The Report is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 3 December at 2000 GMT. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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