Families seek `the truth' about Waco

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The Independent Online
RELATIVES OF the British victims of the Waco tragedy have backed calls for a new inquiry after the FBI admitted using inflammable tear gas to end the siege. Eighty people, including the cult leader David Koresh and 23 Britons, were killed when fire engulfed the Texan compound of the Branch Davidian religious cult on 19 April 1993.

One of the ugliest and most controversial events in recent American history, it also sparked the deadliest terrorist incident seen in the United States. Now, the story which the FBI and the Justice Department told about the death of Koresh and the other members of the sect is starting to come apart at the seams.

British relatives said they had always been suspicious of the part played by the US authorities in ending the 51-day siege when Federal agents tried to execute arrest and search warrants at the Davidian compound.

The stand-off ended with a rapid series of explosions in the main wooden structure where the sect members were living.

Paul Horslen, who lives in Nottingham and is the brother-in-law of Winston Blake, who died at Waco, said: "We always knew there was more than the American government was saying about this, and hopefully the full truth will come out."

Nelly Morrison from Manchester, whose daughter, Rosemarie, and granddaughter, Melissa, both died at Waco, said: "I had an idea this might be the case. It was in my thoughts all the while that they were not telling the truth but I cannot prove it."

The US Attorney General, Janet Reno, said she was angry at not being told about the incendiary tear gas until this week. Over the past six years the FBI had always denied using tear gas devices in the incident. The Texas authorities have also confirmed that members of the Delta Force, America's equivalent of the SAS, were also present. But despite the new revelations, Ms Reno said the government did not cause the fire that destroyed the compound. "I am very, very upset," Ms Reno said of the new information. "I'm going to pursue it until I get to the truth.

"Prior to 19 April [1993], I received assurances that the gas and its means of use were not pyrotechnic. Since then, I have consistently been told that no pyrotechnic devices were used. At this time, all available indications are that the devices were not directed at the main wooden compound, were discharged several hours before the fire started."

In February 1994 three British survivors - Renos Avraam, Norman Allison and Livingston Fagan - were acquitted with eight other cult members. They had been charged with conspiracy to murder four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and with conspiracy to set fire to the compound. Mr Allison, then 29, from Manchester, was acquitted of all charges and deported. In June 1994 Avraam, then 30, of Tottenham, north London, and Fagan, 34 at the time and from Nottingham, were among eight cult members jailed for their part in the Waco gun battle.

The two Britons are now serving 40-year sentences - the maximum 30 years for firearms offences and the maximum 10 years for aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter. Both of them will be deported on release.

Dick DeGuerin, the lawyer behind the defence, said the revelation that the FBI used incendiary tear gas threw doubt upon those convictions.

The issue is a cause celebre with the extreme right in America. Two years after the 1993 siege, a right-wing terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, planted a bomb in Oklahoma City on the same date as the Waco killings. The bomb claimed more than 200 lives.