Blair 'not welcome' at war service

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Indy Politics

The families of British soldiers killed in Iraq have fiercely criticised Tony Blair's decision to attend a remembrance service for Britain's war dead.

One grieving relative - the father of the helicopter pilot Philip Green killed in a crash - said the Prime Minister should stay away from the service at St Paul's Cathedral on Friday.

Richard Green, a businessman from Grantham, Lincolnshire, claimed Mr Blair had lied to the nation about the need for war and was ultimately to blame for the deaths of 51 British troops. "He shouldn't be there because he's the one that killed them," he said. The attacks are highly damaging for Mr Blair - coming only days after he avoided an embarrassing clash with Labour activists over his decision to attack Iraq without United Nations backing.

At St Paul's, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be joined by Mr Blair and other senior ministers - including the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon - for a remembrance service for the British servicemen killed since the coalition invasion on 20 March. Soldiers from all the units involved in the conflict will also attend.

But the event is at risk of being overshadowed by deepening unhappiness among the relatives about the justification for invading, particularly after the US-led inspection team admitted on Thursday it could find no weapons of mass destruction.

The Government's efforts to put aside the controversy by honouring the war dead - and to "pray for the people of Iraq" - will also be dogged by deep unease over Mr Hoon's and Downing Street's roles in events leading up to the suspected suicide of the weapons' scientist David Kelly.

Among the 250 relatives attending will be Mr Green, his wife and two daughters, and the family of Ian Seymour, a commando killed in a helicopter crash on the second day of the war. Other families due at St Paul's are also understood to be privately critical of the decision to go to war.

Lianne Seymour, Commando Seymour's widow, from Poole, Dorset, said Mr Blair should only attend St Paul's if he felt "true remorse" about the deaths of British troops. She was furious that the Prime Minister had insisted last week that he did not regret the war.

"If he thinks that those losses are truly justified considering all the points of contention - such as the reports from the investigators that weapons of mass destruction hadn't been found - I would find it hypocritical for him to turn up," she said. "Tributes aren't enough. I think there should be true remorse."

Mr Green admitted he felt highly emotional about Mr Blair's presence at the service. "I think he's a war criminal, it's as simple as that. The man, without any consideration to the Labour parliamentary party, elected to go to war with this scabby little friend in Texas [President Bush], and killed 51 of our men unnecessarily," he said. "If I have a chance to meet him on Friday, I will tell him to his face."

Rob Kelly, the father of the youngest Briton killed in Iraq, Paratrooper Andrew Kelly, 18, said Mr Blair should reconsider attending. Mr Kelly, a former submariner who fought in the Falklands conflict, said: "Our Prime Minister put our country to war unnecessarily, so what has he got to be thankful for?"

Mr Kelly, from Saltash, Cornwall, has decided not to attend the service because he wanted to grieve privately. He said: "I'm still not convinced by our Prime Minister, especially with his speech at the Labour Party conference. He mentions he made the right decision and that people in Iraq are happy. That might be so, but we should've waited to go with the United Nations."

The families' criticisms will increase tension around the event, after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, expressed his unease that it could become triumphalist.Dr Williams will read the sermon. The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, will lead prayers for "penitence and reconciliation".