Families of soldiers who died in Iraq condemn President

George Bush was accused yesterday of making political capital out of the deaths of British servicemen in Iraq.

The President is due next week to meet between six and eight families who lost relatives during the conflict.

Fifty-four British personnel have died so far while serving in the Gulf. Mr Bush will offer relatives the sympathy "of the American people and the prayers of the President" in the meetings during his three-day state visit.

Yesterday Robert Kelly, the father of the youngest soldier to die in the conflict, said Tony Blair and Mr Bush did not really care about the deaths of British troops. Mr Kelly, whose 18-year-old son, Private Andrew Kelly, was killed in a shooting accident in Basra, said: "For these people to meet families, it is only for their own gain. They are not sympathetic towards people like me. They don't really care that my son lost his life."

Mr Kelly, 53, who has not been invited to meet Mr Bush, said more should have been done to avoid the war. "Blair should have listened to his own people," he added.

Reg Keys, 51, whose son, Lance Corporal Thomas Keys, died defending a police station near Basra four days before his 21st birthday, said that he could not stomach Mr Bush's claim that Britons had given their lives for a "noble cause". He added: "I am totally against his visit. I don't know how he has the nerve to show his face in this country after costing the lives of 54 British soldiers for his own glory. I looked at my son's bullet-riddled body and that did not seem very noble to me. He was just killed by a mob."

Mr Keys, of Bala, North Wales, who challenged Mr Blair at the memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral over the war in Iraq, said that he would like to tell Mr Bush that he caused his son's death.

But Samantha Roberts, the widow of the first British soldier killed in Iraq, Sergeant Steven Roberts, praised Mr Bush and said it was ironic the US President and not Tony Blair had agreed to see relatives. Mrs Roberts, from Bradford, said no one had represented the Government at her husband's funeral and that she would like to look Mr Bush in the eye when she asked him if the invasion of Iraq had been necessary.

Debbi Allbutt, whose husband, Stephen, was killed with a fellow Queen's Royal Lancer when comrades mistakenly opened fire on their tank, also felt angry at Mr Bush's visit. Mrs Allbutt, 37, who has two children and lives in Stoke-on-Trent, said: " I don't want to see him if he can't be bothered to see all of us. There are only 54 of us after all."

Her comments were echoed by Gavin Tweedie, 59, of Hawick, Roxburghshire, whose son, Alexander, 25, was fatally injured in an accident in the conflict while serving with the Blues and Royals regiment. "I supported the war but I didn't think it would actually be any use," he said.

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