Iraq widows and orphans threaten to sue over 'illegal war'

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Bitter recriminations over Iraq continue to dog Tony Blair as relatives of British soldiers killed in the conflict take the first steps towards legal action against him.

Bitter recriminations over Iraq continue to dog Tony Blair as relatives of British soldiers killed in the conflict take the first steps towards legal action against him.

A letter from 10 bereaved families was delivered to Downing Street yesterday, stating that there would be an immediate application for a judicial review unless the Prime Minister agrees to a public inquiry within 14 days.

The families' lawyers also said they could launch private actions against Mr Blair on charges that he misused his office in sending troops to fight in an illegal war.

The relations' umbrella group, Military Families Against War, is also lodging papers with the International Criminal Court in The Hague over the use of cluster bombs by British forces in Iraq.

The accusations of dishonesty over Iraq in the last days of the campaign see the Prime Minister forced, yet again, to justify joining the US-led invasion, this time during a visit to the key marginal seat of Gloucester.

Gordon Brown, too, was dragged into the controversy, having to defend Mr Blair after the widow of the latest soldier to be killed in the conflict, Guardsman Anthony Wakefield, blamed him for her husband's death. But, the Chancellor pointedly said that "lessons needed to be learned" about the way the matter was handled, including the publication of the WMD dossier.

Relatives of dead soldiers scathingly attacked Mr Blair for his "lies" about the war at a press conference held just 50 yards from the Ministry of Defence.

The families also claimed that a soldier's wife had been told by an insurance company that her husband was no longer covered while serving in Iraq because it thought the war could be illegal.

The families' solicitor, Phil Shiner, said it was not clear whether they would receive legal aid in their bid for a judicial review. However, there should not be problems with funding.

The families insisted that the timing of the announcement of the legal action was not due to the imminence of the election, but has been guided by revelations, in the last week, of the legal advice given by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, as well as internal Government memos.

The families' lawyers would seek the disclosure of further documents in a judicial review, and would also seek evidence from Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office lawyer who resigned in protest over the war, and other Government lawyers thought to hold similar views.

The letter to Mr Blair was signed by, among others, Reg Keys, who is standing against the Prime Minister in his constituency, Sedgefield, and Rose Gentle, contesting East Kilbride against Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister.

Peter Brierley, who lost his son, Shaun, said: " My son went to war thinking he was going to make the world safe from weapons of mass destruction. I believed that argument made by the Prime Minister as well.

"As time went by it was proved that they did not have the WMDs and I began to think about the legal implications. Now I know that Tony Blair lied. He sent my son to his death needlessly."

Tony Hamilton-Jewell, whose brother Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell, was killed near Basra in June 2003, accused Mr Blair of "lying and lying again". He added: "The man is covering up for himself and his government, and he has to be exposed.

"Mr Blair was right about three letters, but it wasn't WMD but O-I-L."

Earlier, Ann Toward, Guardsman Wakefield's widow, renewed her criticism of the Prime Minsiter, saying: "It is Tony Blair's fault. He sent all these troops out. If he hadn't sent them out then Anthony would still be alive."

Asked about Ms Toward's comments, Mr Brown said: "Anybody who has suffered grief and loss will understand the feelings and difficulties that this family is facing today. [But] we believe we were making the right decisions [about the war] in the British national economic interests.

"At the end of the day, we wanted the security of Britain and British national interest to be advanced."

At a Labour Party event in Gloucester, Mr Blair responded to the allegation that he had merely followed US President George Bush into war. "In the end you have got to try and do, as Prime Minister, what you think is right for the country," Mr Blair said. "And some of those decisions are very, very difficult."

The dead

Sergeant Les Hehir, 34, Royal Artillery, of Dorset, married with two children, killed in air crash, March 2003

Lieutenant Marc Lawrence RN, 26, from Westgate on Sea, Kent, killed in a helicopter crash in March 2003

Lance-Corporal Shaun Brierley, 28, 1 Armoured Div, of West Yorkshire, killed in a traffic accident in Kuwait, March 2003

L/Corporal Tom Keys, 20, Royal Military Police, of Llanuwchllyn, north Wales, killed in Al Majar Al-Kabir, June 2003

Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell, 41, Royal Military Police, of Surrey, also killed in Al Majar Al-Kabir

Corporal Simon Miller, 21, Royal Military Police, of Tyne and Wear, also killed in Al Majar Al-Kabir

Corpoal Russell Aston, 30, Royal Military Police of Derbyshire, married with a daughter, also died in Al Majar Al-Kabir

Corporal Paul Long, 24, Royal Military Police, of Colchester and married with a son, also killed in Al Majar Al-Kabir

Fusilier Gordon Gentle, 19, Royal Highland Fusiliers, from Glasgow, was killed by a bomb in Basra in June 2004

Territorial Army Corporal Dewi Pritchard, 35, from Bridgend, who had two children, shot dead in Basra in August 2003

Disclosed documents difficult to reconcile with declarations

"Each one of our clients' loved ones was a brave and courageous individual who joined the British Army to serve his country. They know that as soldiers they would be asked to place their lives in peril and did so understanding their leaders would ask them to act in circumstances that were in the national interest and were lawful. Each of our clients' loved ones were killed at a time when they had been told by you they were fighting a war that was fully justified in international law in order to disarms a country that held weapons of mass destruction.

It has long been apparent that the stated rationale for the war, the presence of WMD, was incorrect in that no such weapons existed at the date at which our clients' loved ones were sent to Iraq nor at the date of their deaths. Our clients have witnessed with anger disclosure of documentation that throws into doubt the justification ... for the war, and could be said to raise reasonable doubt on whether you ordered their loved ones into battle in good faith...

"These matters... stand in stark contrast to the repeated declarations... as to the basis for the war and also seem difficult to reconcile with the unequivocal terms of the Attorney General's published summary of of his Advice of 2003.

"In the light of the disparity between the unofficially disclosed documents and official public pronouncements our clients have a number of very real concerns as to the legality and legitimacy of the basis on which their loved ones sacrificed their lives..."

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