Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 17:39 UK

Relatives meet Iraq inquiry officials

British soldier in Basra
The relatives of those killed in the Iraq conflict met officials

Relatives of those killed during the UK's Iraq mission are holding a series of meetings with officials conducting the inquiry into the war and its aftermath.

BBC World Affairs Correspondent Peter Biles was at the first gathering.

The chairman of the Iraq inquiry, Sir John Chilcott, who introduced the meeting, said there was a lot of ground to cover in the months ahead.

"We have a mountain of documentary evidence," he said.

He confirmed that preliminary meetings with families would be held within the next week or two, and that the inquiry's formal hearings would probably begin in late November.

No evidence will be taken during next year's British general election, but it is hoped the process will be completed by the end of 2010.

At the meeting, Sir John invited the first comments from family members of those Britons killed in Iraq.

We just want honesty
Father of dead serviceman

Colin Mildinhall, whose 26-year-old son, Tom, a member of the Queen's Dragoon Guards, was killed in Basra in 2006, said his prime concern was the legality of the Iraq War.

"The country was badly let down and lied to," he said.

Flt Lt Paul Pardoel was killed in the crash of an RAF Hercules in January 2005.

His widow, Kellie Merritt, asked the committee whether there would be an examination of the preparations for the Iraq invasion.

Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in 2005, said: "This was an illegal war, and there is still a great deal of anger. It showed today.

"The anger was directed at Tony Blair for taking us into this mess."

His sentiments were echoed by Deirdre Gover, the mother of 30-year-old Kristian, who died in a helicopter accident in 2004.

She said: "Tony Blair deceived us on weapons of mass destruction. He should be held responsible for the conflict. He lied to his cabinet, to his government, to parliament and to us".

'Innocent victim'

Sir John confirmed that the inquiry would cover an eight year period from 2001 to 2009, when British combat operations ended.

Also present was the family of Margaret Hassan, the British aid worker who was kidnapped and killed in 2004 while working in Baghdad for CARE International.

One of her sisters, Deirdre Manchanda, questioned why Tony Blair had sent 650 members of the Black Watch to the Iraqi capital at the time of President George Bush's re-election in 2004, even though the Americans had thousands of troops of their own in Baghdad at that time.

In a separate letter to the inquiry, Ms Hassan's family is asking the British government to call on the Iraqi authorities to search the area identified as the place in which Margaret is buried.

"We are requesting that you use your influence to help us recover the body of our sister. Margaret, like many others, is an innocent victim of war," the family says.

In June this year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was essential that the families of those who gave their lives in Iraq were properly consulted on the nature of the inquiry.

At the meeting, one man who lost his son in Iraq summed up the prevailing mood: "We just want honesty," he said.

In an interview afterwards, Sir John agreed that feelings were "very strong".

He said: "There's great pain about the loss and the reason why we went into the Iraq."

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