Families go to court to demand public inquiry on Iraq war

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The Independent Online

The families of soldiers killed in Iraq have called on the High Court to support their fight for a public inquiry into whether Tony Blair took the country to war "based on a series of lies".

"All I want is for the Prime Minister to tell the truth about the war," said Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon, 19, of the Royal Highland Fusiliers was killed in June last year. In a statement to the court, Mrs Gentle, who is the first of six named applicants, added, if there was no legal basis for the war, "my son should never have been sent to Iraq and would still be alive today".

Andrew Burgin, of the Stop the War Coalition, said as many as 20 families were supporting the case and they were optimistic but realistic about their chances of winning.

Among them is Beverley Clarke whose son, David, was killed when his tank was fired upon by another Challenger in a "friendly-fire" incident in 2003. Last night, an Army Board of Inquiry formally acknowledged errors were made and recommended better training.

During the High Court case yesterday, Rabinder Singh QC, representing the bereaved families, asked Mr Justice Collins to grant permission for a ground-breaking legal challenge against a government refusal in May to hold an "effective, independent public inquiry".

The families believe the decision to go to war because Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was "based on a series of lies" and was "an illegal act". With the British military death toll currentlu standing at 98, Mr Singh told the judge the case raised issues "of profound public importance and of widespread public interest", and the public inquiry should determine "the basis on which the UK actually went to war".

If granted permission for a full hearing, the families - acting through an organisation called Military Families Against the War - will seek a declaration that the Government's inquiry refusal violates the "right to life" guaranteed under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Singh argued that the article obliged the state to conduct a proper, adequate investigation when lives were lost. That obligation could only be disregarded in Iraq if the war was lawful under international and domestic law.

Philip Sales, opposing the application on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Attorney General, contended that the grounds submitted by the families did not disclose "an arguable case" which should go to a full hearing.

The judge reserved his decision to a later date.

In a separate hearing yesterday, a military Board of Inquiry acknowledged that Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, and Trooper David Clarke, 19, of the Queen's Royal Lancers, died in a friendly-fire incident that also seriously injured two others. They died near Basra in the early hours of 25 March 2003 after a British tank fired on them.

While insisting it was not there to apportion blame, the board said several factors contributed to the incident. It said the boundaries between tanks and arcs of fire should have been better known and there needed to be a more co-ordinated approach to the action.

The case has already been referred to the Army Prosecution Authority, which concluded that no one should face charges. Among the board's recommendations, which the Ministry of Defence said had since been implemented, was a call for "better training, target recognition and fire control".