Bereaved families take wreath protest to Downing Street

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The Independent Online

Families of British soldiers killed or serving in Iraq took their anger to the Prime Minister's doorstep yesterday. A group of 11 relatives observed a minute's silence outside 10 Downing Street after laying a wreath of poppies to honour the fallen of Iraq.

Families of British soldiers killed or serving in Iraq took their anger to the Prime Minister's doorstep yesterday. A group of 11 relatives observed a minute's silence outside 10 Downing Street after laying a wreath of poppies to honour the fallen of Iraq.

Reg Keys and Rose Gentle, who have both lost sons in the Iraq conflict, then entered the Prime Minister's official residence briefly to hand over a letter signed by families and calling for British troops to be brought home.

"It was important to be able to send a message to Tony Blair's doorstep that that is where responsibility lies for these troops. He sent them to war because of the 45-minute risk of a [weapons of mass destruction] strike. That was clearly a lie,'' Mr Keys said. "He has not apologised to one family."

On the day the bodies of three Black Watch soldiers were being flown home, Mr Keys added: "Well, Mr Blair, you certainly got them home for Christmas, but not the way their parents wanted them."

The families' bitterness has been increased by the threat to disband the Black Watch and three other regiments when they return from Iraq. Mr Blair has asked General Sir Michael Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, to review the plans to see if the regiments can be saved.

It seemed likely last night that there will be an attempt to rescue the cap badge and the kilt, but General Jackson is believed to be reluctant to shelve the merger of the regiments. During angry clashes with Michael Howard, the leader of the Opposition, Mr Blair said that no decision had been reached yet.

Outside the Commons, the quiet dignity of the relatives' small ceremony was in marked contrast to an unseemly debacle earlier in the day when the families were initially told they could not lay a wreath in Downing Street.

Theresa Evans, whose 24-year-old son, Llewellyn, was among the first to be killed when a US C-Knight helicopter crashed on 21 March 2003, in front of his brother on another flight, sobbed uncontrollably as she stood near the Cenotaph.

For James Buchanan from Arbroath, whose two sons, Craig and Gary, are currently with the Black Watch in Camp Dogwood, the sentiments were fear and fury. He condemned Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, for failing to tell families for three weeks about the controversial deployment into the American sector near Fallujah.

"Fighting is their job. That's what my boys went out there for. But not for the Americans, not for the lies they were told."

Mr Buchanan was speaking at a press conference to launch Military Families Against the War. While they acknowledged their numbers were small, with many families too traumatised to cope with the spotlight, they insisted support was growing.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son, Gordon, died in Basra while serving with the Royal Highland Fusiliers, said: "I have had contact from as far as Australia and America. I am getting calls every day."

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