US payments to families deepen anguish over Gulf war dead

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The Independent Online
PETER ATKINSON received nothing after his soldier son was killed in a 'friendly fire' attack on British troops by US pilots during the Gulf war, not even a full explanation why he died.

The news yesterday of that pounds 66,000 ex-gratia payments were to be handed to for the families of two British officers killed in a similar incident this year prompted anguish in him, rather than anger. He asked a simple question: 'Why have we been treated differently?'

Mr Atkinson's 19-year-old son Paul, 19, was one of nine privates soldiers killed when American A10 A-10 'Tankbuster' pilots mistook them for Iraqi troops and launched a rocket attack on their Warrior armoured car. In 1992, Oxford cCoroner's cCourt ruled in May 1992that the soldiers were unlawfully killed by the US pilots. Since then, Nothing has happened since. the families have received no compensation, nort have the pilots have never everbeen named.

William Perry, the US DefenceDefense Secretary, said the dollars 100,000 ex gratia payments for the relatives of the two officers - Major Harry Shapland, 28, and Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathon Swann, 51 - were because of the 'humanitarian nature' of the work they were doing when their helicopter was shot down by American US fighter pilots over Iraq.

One Labour MP has criticised the 'double standards' of making payments to officers' families but not privates. those of privates. Mr Atkinson, from Birtley, Tyneside, Tyne and Wear, wants to know: 'What were our lads there for? The same thing: to help the people of Kuwait. It wasn't our war. The lads went there to save a country. They did the business. These officers were flying around, but our kids had been in battle.'

Mr Atkinson, from Birtley, Tyneside, is beyond anger, grief or consolation. All he has left are questions. Three years ago Mr Atkinson he went to the United States to try and to get some looking for answers. 'We met George Bush. He was trying to slide out of meeting us so I ran after him, collared him and told him what I thought. He said to me 'You want the facts? . . . Right, you'll get them.'. ' Mr Atkinson is still waiting. 'Months later they sent us a report. It was rubbish. All the relevant details had been censored out.

'When Jeremy Hanley ((now the Conservative pParty chairman)) took over as Armed Forces minister, he asked all the families if they wanted a report telling exactly how their sons died. I know that already - they were blown to pieces. I don't want to know how he died, I want to know why he died.'

Mark Stephens, thelawyer representing thefor the relatives of the nine soldiers, said the US action was 'morally reprehensible'. Mr Stephens said he was writing to the American Ambassador to ask how he could continue tojustify the moral stance ofinaction in the case of his clients.

Mr Atkinson was weary yesterday: 'I'm sick of all this. It stinks, it's horrible. I had Archie Hamilton, (the armed forces minister), check with Routledge a grown man, grovelling and squirming in front of me. Every question I asked him, he didn't have an answer for me. I asked John Major for a meeting. He just wrote back saying he didn't think it would help.'

Denis MacShane,sp Labour MP for Rotherham, wrote to the pPrime mMinister yesterday again asking him to meet the families to explain why they are still awaiting compensation: 'No money can replace the loss of loved ones but 'If the families of British officers are to receive financial help then there should be equal treatment for private soldiers. Any other approach is unfair and will be seen as a double standard by those serving in the armed forces, their families and the wider public.

'You should authorise payments to the nine families and seek reimbursement from President Clinton as an uncleared debt that the US military owe the nine British soldiers who were needlessly killed by US pilot error.'

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in London said: 'Such payments are extremely rare and we are grateful to the US for making the exception.' in this case.'

For Mr Atkinson this is a further slap in the face: 'I'm glad for the families that are getting this money. People think, if you talk about compensation, you're being mercenary. I'm not fussed about the money, it won't bring my son back. It is the principle of the thing. Why not treat everybody the same?'He is determined to get answers.