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Last Updated: Friday, 13 April 2007, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
'No witch hunt' over Iran stories
The sailors detained by Iran
Two of the sailors have sold their stories to the media
Downing Street has said it will not engage in a "witch hunt" against those responsible for allowing the navy crew freed by Iran to sell their stories.

About 3,000 people have signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling for the "naming and sacking" of whoever authorised the sales.

But No 10 said Tony Blair believed actions had been taken "honourably and in difficult circumstances".

Defence Secretary Des Browne has taken responsibility for the navy's decision.

He said he had not been "content" with the move, made in the wake of the marines' and sailors' release, but believed he had had no choice but to give it his blessing under Ministry of Defence rules.

'Exceptional situation'

Mr Browne, who is due to give a Commons statement on the affair on Monday, has conceded that with "hindsight" he could have made a different decision.

The decision to allow the personnel to sell their stories has drawn fierce criticism from the Conservatives, former military figures and the families of servicemen killed or injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said it had damaged the reputation of Britain's armed forces.

Tony Blair has also said it was not a "good idea".

But Downing Street denies having had "anything to do" with it and Mr Blair has rejected calls to name the civil servants responsible.

A statement posted on the Downing Street website said: "The prime minister has already made it clear that he recognises that the navy were trying to deal with a wholly exceptional situation.

"He has no intention of engaging in a witch hunt against people who acted honourably and in good faith in very difficult circumstances."

Petition

The Downing Street petition was organised by Mike Critchley, a former Royal Navy officer and Conservative activist.

Mr Critchley, of Warship World magazine, told BBC News 24 he had been "staggered" by the response.

Anyone can set a petition up on the Downing Street site - it hit the headlines earlier this year when 1.8m people signed a petition against road pricing.

The 15 freed navy crew have been at the centre of a row since they were released - even though only two of them have sold their stories.

Arthur Batchelor, 20, the youngest of the British sailors to be held captive, told the Daily Mirror about his "nightmare" at the hands of his captors.

And Leading Seaman Faye Turney sold her story to ITV1's Tonight with Trevor Macdonald and the Sun newspaper - reportedly for a six-figure sum, some of which will go to navy families.

The Royal Navy crew were on patrol boats in the Gulf on 23 March when they were detained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard - the Iranians said they had strayed into its waters, which the British deny.




SEE ALSO
PCC 'offered media help' to MoD
13 Apr 07 |  UK Politics

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