Page last updated at 17:51 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I feel soldier mother's pain - PM

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Gordon Brown: "I said I was sorry for any offence caused"

Gordon Brown has said he "understands" the grief felt by a dead soldier's mother who called his condolence letter a "hastily scrawled insult".

Jacqui Janes accused the prime minister of misspelling her surname "James" in a note about her son Jamie, 20.

But Mr Brown told his monthly press conference: "The last thing on my mind was to cause any offence."

The prime minister said he had asked for a full report into Guardsman Janes's death.

When Mr Brown telephoned Mrs Janes on Sunday, she challenged him over a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan, the Sun, which publishes a full transcript of the conversation, reports.

'Stark human cost'

Guardsman Janes, of 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards, was killed in an explosion in October while on foot patrol in Helmand province.

Nick Robinson
The real debate - beneath all this anguish - is surely whether men like Guardsman Janes died in vain or made a sacrifice that is vital to protecting their country
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

Mr Brown, whose 10-day-old baby daughter Jennifer Jane died in 2002, told his press conference: "I'm a parent also.

"I feel the pain of people who lose their loved ones. I understand when people are grieving that they are looking for the answers that I talked about earlier.

"I'm a parent who understands the feelings when something goes terribly, terribly wrong and I understand how long it takes to handle the grief that we have all experienced."

He also said: "I feel for the mother's grief. I understand the pain that she is going through.

"It's a terrible personal sadness and raises questions in your mind about what could have been done."

'Courageous'

Mr Brown added: "When there's a personal loss as deep and immediate as she has experienced it takes time to recover.

"That loss can never be replaced. You have got to take it one day at a time. You have got to think of the rest of your family.

"Over time comfort comes from understanding that your son has played an important part... died in such a courageous way that no-one can ever forget him."

Mr Brown went on: "I apologised to Jacqui Janes yesterday for any mistakes that had been made.

"I also said to anybody whom I have written to, if my writing is difficult to read, I apologise for that."

HAVE YOUR SAY
I feel sorry for this woman but Brown as well - I think he is caught between a rock and a hard place with few options
Charlie Patey, Reading
Mr Brown defended the government's provision of medical support and equipment such as helicopters to forces stationed in Afghanistan.

He said he had asked for a "full report" on the circumstances of Guardsman Janes's death, to establish whether his mother was right to believe that better helicopter capability could have saved his life.

He added that the government had to "explain to people satisfactorily what we have to do" in Afghanistan.

The bodies of six other UK servicemen - five of whom were shot by a "rogue" Afghan policeman last week - were repatriated later on Tuesday.

Mr Brown said: "Each life lost is an irreplaceable loss for a family. It reminds us all of the stark human cost of armed conflict in the service of our society."

Gill Grigg, chairman of the War Widows' Association, told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "I think it's very sad that the letter wasn't checked for any mistakes, but on the other hand I think that the prime minister finding time to write a personal letter to the family of every soldier or member of the Armed Forces who dies in service... I think that's really a wonderful gesture."



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