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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 17:23 GMT
'Regret' over Blair execution comment
Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth
The two soldiers died in Iraq
A government minister has expressed regret over any hurt caused by Tony Blair's claim that two British soldiers were executed.

The prime minister's comments were apparently at odds with what the British Army had told relatives of Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, both from a bomb disposal unit of the Royal Engineers.

Sapper Allsopp's family had reportedly expressed anger after Mr Blair used the two deaths as an example of the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram took the opportunity of a news briefing for journalists in London to express his "regret" for any distress caused.

'No intention to hurt'

He said: "Given the information available to us, it did indicate that those two soldiers may have been executed.

"So if there's hurt from the language used then we regret that, clearly, that was never the intention.

"But it was to point up ... our knowledge about the depravity, the brutality of that regime."

Mr Blair made his execution claim, which is denied by Iraq, at a news conference with President George W Bush at Camp David near Washington.

In particular he expressed outrage that pictures of the bodies were paraded on an Arab news channel.

"It is yet one more flagrant breach of all the proper conventions of war.

It is beyond the comprehension of anyone with an ounce of humanity in their souls
Tony Blair

"More than that, to the families of the soldiers involved, it is an act of cruelty beyond comprehension.

"Indeed, it is beyond the comprehension of anyone with an ounce of humanity in their souls."

Al-Jazeera television has screened pictures of the two soldiers who went missing in an Iraqi ambush on Sunday.

Asked why he had referred to their deaths as executions, Mr Blair said it was "because of the circumstances we know".

Speaking later, the prime minister's official spokesman acknowledged there was not absolute proof they were executed but claimed that "every piece of information points towards the men having been executed in a brutal fashion".

He said the bodies had been found some distance from their vehicles and their protective equipment and helmets were missing.

According to the Daily Mirror newspaper Sapper Allsopp's sister Nina said: "His Colonel told us he was not executed we just can't understand why people are lying."

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf told Abu Dhabi television that Mr Blair had "lied to the public" about the soldiers, adding: "We haven't executed anyone."

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Luke Allsop's family say he was killed in action"

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