Charles to meet families of soldiers killed in Iraq

Prince of Wales to hear demands of bereaved relatives for British troops to be brought home
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The Independent Online

The Prince of Wales will be asked to support demands for British troops to leave Iraq when he meets the parents of soldiers killed in the Gulf war in private this week.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have invited several of the most prominent critics of Tony Blair's policy on Iraq to Highgrove this Thursday, including Reg Keys, who stood against the Prime Minister in his Sedgefield constituency at last year's general election.

Palace officials insist his meeting is non-political and based on his honorary position as a senior commander of the armed forces, but Mr Keys and other campaigning relatives, including Rose Gentle, believe he is privately sympathetic to their complaints.

The event takes place the day after more than a dozen prominent celebrities, including the actor Simon Callow, the designer Vivienne Westwood and director Ken Loach, host a fund-raising event for the Iraq "refusenik" Fl-Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith in London.

The RAF doctor is serving an eight-month prison term for refusing to return to Iraq. His supporters, who include the musician Peter Gabriel, claim he is a prisoner of conscience.

The Highgrove reception is understood to include relatives who do not criticise Britain's role in the Iraq conflict, but Prince Charles's decision to meet parents such as Mr Keys and Mrs Gentle, whose son Gordon died in 2004, risks alarming military commanders. Mr Keys, who lost his son Thomas, a military policeman, in June 2003, said this meeting also contrasted markedly with Mr Blair's repeated refusal to meet the families. "It just shows that these two men are poles apart in integrity and compassion," he said.

"If I did get the opportunity to talk to him, I would have to say it's clearly a catastrophic strategic failure; that it has cost far too many lives and needs to be brought to a close."

Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun died in March 2003, added: "Prince Charles is being a good national leader, isn't he? It seems a bit strange that the man elected by the people to be their leader refuses to meet us, but the bloke born into it is voluntarily doing so."

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