Richard Ingrams’s Week: We forget our soldiers' legal fears over Iraq

Saturday 24 October 2009 00:00

Having, as I do, what some may consider a perverse inclination to sympathise with anyone subjected to unanimous abuse, I have been struggling to think of something nice to say about Mr Nick Griffin.

After all, it was William Blake who with his usual insight observed, "I have never known a very bad man who had not something very good about him."

Applying that useful precept to Griffin, I quote his attack this week on our senior generals who had joined in the public outcry. Reminding us that German generals had been put on trial along with political leaders at Nuremburg, he pointed out that our generals had pursued illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They must not think that they will escape culpability," he warned them.

The generals may pooh-pooh such talk as the ravings of a right-wing lunatic. But the fact is that in 2003 when Blair was about to commit British troops to support the American invasion of Iraq, there was serious alarm among the military top brass about the possible consequences as far as they personally were concerned.

It was reported in this paper at the time that the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West, now Gordon's Brown's security adviser, had been so concerned that he had taken independent legal advice about possible prosecution.

Even the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, is said to have demanded assurances from the Government that the invasion of Iraq would be justifiable in a court of law.

Victoria's secret: mystery deepens

I referred last month to my grandfather Sir James Reid, who was Queen Victoria's doctor, and the fact that the present Queen had tried to stop publication in his biography of details of Queen Victoria's burial. Sir James had been instructed to put a picture of John Brown and a lock of his hair in the dead queen's left hand.

I might have added that another of his tasks, following Victoria's death, was to retrieve some 300 letters she had written about Brown to her former doctor Dr Profeit. His son George was attempting to blackmail Edward VII. Sir James, having eventually acquired the letters, described them as "most compromising".

John Julius Norwich, with whom I was discussing the story at this week's Oldie lunch, told me an intriguing postscript which he in turn had been told by the diplomat and scholar Sir Steven Runciman, famous for his definitive history of the Crusades.

According to Runciman, Victoria's Lady of the Bedchamber, Lady Erroll, describes in her unpublished diary how, some time after the death of Prince Albert, Victoria had retreated for four or five months to a little cottage on the Balmoral estate.

She emerged from her seclusion eventually in a state of great euphoria, and later took Lady Erroll with her in her dog cart to visit John Brown's cottage. The queen went in alone and was then joined by a clergyman. Shortly afterwards Lady Erroll heard the sound of a baby crying and the Queen then emerged with two glasses of champagne saying, "we have something to celebrate".

Make of that what you will.

Wrongs exposed by Ludovic still persist

Along with many of my generation, I was brought up to believe not only that British justice was the finest in the world but also that the British police force was far and away the best in the world.

No one did more to shatter that illusion than Sir Ludovic Kennedy, whose sad death at the age of 89 was reported this week. His book 10 Rillington Place, published in 1961, has been credited with playing a major role in the campaign to abolish capital punishment. But it did more than that. It showed that those wonderful policemen we had been brought up to revere were capable of distorting and concealing evidence and that judges not only made terrible mistakes but also were extremely reluctant to admit to them.

Nothing has changed since then. In fact, the situation has probably got worse. The Lockerbie story, which to the relief of the authorities has now been forgotten, recently exposed yet another truly scandalous miscarriage of justice.

As for the police, we have been given a taste this week of the memoirs of former police chief Sir Ian Blair, who attempts to excuse the men who shot the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by arguing that if he had been a terrorist as they thought, they would have been given medals for bravery.

Instead, what has happened to them? As their identity has never been revealed, it is hard to know. They have certainly not been dismissed. They may even have been promoted, like the head of the operation, Commander Cressida Dick.

There were very good grounds for prosecuting them for perjury when their evidence given on oath at the inquest was flatly contradicted by other witnesses. But nothing of the kind happened.

So while they may not have been awarded the George Cross they have every reason to be very grateful to the state.

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