The mother of a British soldier killed in an Iraqi ambush has launched a petition for the withdrawal of UK troops as she prepares to sue the Ministry of Defence over the death of her son.
Rose Gentle, 40, whose outspoken criticism of the conflict has fuelled criticisms that her grief has been hijacked by anti-war campaigners, denied yesterday that she was being manipulated. "Let's just make this clear," she said. "It was my decision to speak out. Nobody is using me. I was totally against the war before my Gordon even left for the Army."
Mrs Gentle, who visited Downing Street last month to protest and stormed out of a meeting with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said she had spoken to many mothers who share her concerns over the position in Iraq. "I have had a lot of people phoning me, people stopping me in the street saying, 'Don't give up'. There's a lot of mothers who just don't want their sons to be sent out there," she said.
It is partly in response to those conversations that she and her daughter, Maxine, 14, have started the petition campaign, which is to be run from her son's former bedroom in the family's council house in Pollok, Glasgow. "We will have a website soon where people can sign the petition online. I will take it to Tony Blair myself," she said. "Maybe now he's finished sunning himself and is back from holiday he will listen to me and the other mothers who don't want their sons going to Iraq ...I hope Tony Blair has a good Christmas this year. My Gordon's birthday was two days before Christmas. I don't think there will ever be Christmas in my house again."
Private Gentle, 19, was travelling in the back of a military vehicle in June when a roadside bomb exploded, killing him almost instantly.
His family believe that his death could have been prevented if his regiment had been provided with up-to-date equipment that would have stopped the radio-controlled device being detonated. Troops from the Royal Highland Fusiliers were issued with the equipment two days after Private Gentle's death. For the grieving mother, who has shed more than five stone in the past two months, the failure to protect her only son is tantamount to murder. "Just one piece of equipment could have prevented my Gordon's death," she said yesterday. "Comments about me just being a grieving mother with no right to express my views on the Iraq war make me sick."
She said she tried to talk her son out of enlisting. But coming from an area of Glasgow that is rife with poverty, he saw the Army as a way of swapping his £42 a week unemployment benefit for a chance to travel, learn a trade and get a driving licence.
He signed up at the end of last year and completed his basic training in April, just a few weeks before he was sent to Iraq. Two of his uncles had served in the same regiment and numerous other young men from the neighbourhood are serving in Iraq.
"Soldiers accept there is a risk but they should be given the proper training and proper equipment to do the jobs they are asked to do," said Mrs Gentle. "If they are not given that equipment and if the Government is not doing its best to protect them then it is murder."
Mrs Gentle has applied for legal aid to sue the Ministry of Defence for negligence and has engaged John Cooper, the barrister who represented relatives of the soldiers who died at the Deepcut Army Barracks.