Catherine Green: Why Tony Blair must be forced to face a public inquiry into the Iraq war

Catherine Green, whose pilot brother, Philip, was a British casualty, explains why she backs today's High Court action pressing for an independent investigation into the conflict
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Indy Politics

A few weeks ago someone asked me about my family. I hesitated for a moment and then answered that I have just one sister. I thought it would be easier to say than the alternative, which is that I also had a brother but he died in the war. It happened over two-and-a-half years ago, but I have only just begun to comprehend the reality.

I could have stood there and said that he died a hero, or in years to come I could tell people that at one time we were all about to die from a nuclear attack and that my big brother raced against time to save me and millions of other people he didn't even know from a nuclear extinction.

But unfortunately only one part of that would be true, the part where he was racing against time.

Soldiers know that they might be asked to place their lives in peril; they are all brave and courageous and take pride in serving their country. However they must also be assured that their leaders would only ask them to act in circumstances that were in the national interest and were lawful. At the time, the Prime Minister assured soldiers that they were fighting a war that was fully justified in international law. They were fighting to disarm a country that held weapons of mass destruction and which threatened international peace and security at home.

Thirty-three months later, on the strength of that insistence, 98 are dead, many have been disabled and wives, parents, siblings and children are grieving. No evidence of nuclear weaponry has ever been found in Iraq, the threat of an attack within 45 minutes was never substantiated and, even worse, was possibly not true.

My brother was not a war hero. He was called Philip, was 30 years old and had a long-term girlfriend called Louise. He loved flying but he also liked being at home and keeping in touch with friends. The night he died, on 21 March 2003, was the biggest landing of Royal Marines since the Second World War. Philip's job as a naval helicopter pilot was to fly out ahead of them and feed back information to the flagship Ark Royal as to whether the marines were likely to be obstructed. That night the equipment responsible for taking these pictures was malfunctioning, causing a delay in take-off. The crew of four were under extreme pressure to provide continuous intelligence about what was happening in Iraq so took off regardless, flying at approximately 200ft because Tomahawk missiles were being fired overhead into Iraq from American ships. As they were "at war" the squadron's helicopters were flying with no lights and limited radar under air traffic controlled supervision.

Four minutes later Philip's helicopter was involved in a head-on collision with the incoming helicopter returning from its reconnaissance mission that he was flying out to relieve. Seven men were killed. Despite extensive investigations within the Royal Navy no one will ever understand why the accident happened.

Sadly the rush to invade Iraq was not coupled by a rush to conclude a coroner's inquest. Because the British soldiers killed in the Gulf were all repatriated to RAF Brize Norton there is only one coroner dealing with all of their deaths. Two-and-a-half years later we do not even know how Philip died.

The time since then has been a confusion of anger, grief and enormous sadness. We never supported the war and felt that Iraq was actually an incredibly weak country. We have nothing against the Iraqi people and share their sorrow in losing people they love in a war they did not encourage.

We understand the strain of losing a member of the family in such a violent and seemingly unnecessary way and then having to continue with the normality of everyday life surrounded by people who could not possibly imagine what our family, including Philip, has had to cope with.

That is why today, 24 November, the Green family are supporting Rose Gentle and Reg Keys at the Royal Courts of Justice in their demand for an independent and effective public inquiry into the Iraq war and subsequent occupation.

If I made a controversial decision in my work that resulted in the death or injury of many healthy hard-working men and women I would expect to be held accountable for it. At the very least the leaders of our country must do the same.

This court case is to find out the truth. It is not an act of revenge or even an exercise in apportioning blame. It is about the 98 British soldiers who died of horrific injuries under truly terrifying circumstances, fighting to protect their country from a threat that it appears did not even exist.