‘TONY BLAIR SAID HE WOULD SEE ME ONLY IF I GAVE HIM A LIST OF QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE’ – says Beverley Clarke of Military Families Against the War


OVER 100 bereaved relatives whose loved ones have been killed in the illegal war and occupation of Iraq were joined by MPs, peace campaigners and ex-servicemen in a march on Downing Street yesterday.

Led by a piper in full regalia, tearful relatives marched from Parliament Square to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths for their loved ones, after a meeting with MPs in the House of Commons.

At the front of the protest, organised by Military Families Against the War, was Rose Gentle. Among those accompanying her were MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Adam Price and ex-MPs Tony Benn and Martin Bell.

She asked everyone to pause for a minute’s silence, before heading to the gates of Downing Street to hand in a letter to Prime Minister Blair.

Rose Gentle wept for her son Gordon, who was killed in Iraq, before wiping away the tears to tell everyone: ‘If we stop, Tony Blair and his government have won. So we can’t stop.’

Mr and Mrs Craw, – who lost their son in Iraq – spoke to News Line outside parliament.

James Craw said: ‘I’m here on behalf of my son. He got killed on a firing range in Iraq on January 7, 2004.

‘I’m here to ask for justice for my son.’

His wife Ray Craw said: ‘We’ve still not had an inquest yet. It’s been two years and three months.

‘We want to see the troops withdrawn from Iraq. I think it’s about time.

‘I don’t think it’s benefiting anybody, neither the soldiers nor the Iraqis.’

They said they blamed Blair for their son’s death.

George Solomou also took part in the protest.

He told News Line: ‘I was a soldier for five years.

‘I’m part of Military Families Against The War and we’re lending support to those against the war and supporting families that have lost sons and daughters in the war in Iraq.

‘We have got in the region of 60 families represented here today.

‘I think when the general public begins to hear and see and find out about what’s happening in Iraq – and they can put faces to those who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq – they will begin to realise that this war has a human cost, and it needs to end as soon as possible.’

He added: ‘In a historic sense this is outrageous, that we have a leader who is unwilling to meet those who have lost family members or even discussing with them the tragedy of their loss.

‘Blair constantly says that he believes the British soldiers are doing a good job out in Iraq, that they are standing up for democracy, but he’s still unwilling to meet the injured or the bereaved.

‘Or even the dead: when their bodies are flown into the UK, he should be there, commemorating the loss of those individuals.’

George Solomou also called for the release of RAF man Malcolm Kendall-Smith, who was court-martialled for refusing to go to Iraq.

He said: ‘Kendall-Smith made a courageous stand, to stand up against the Ministry of Defence and say that every soldier has a responsibility to abide by international law, which clearly says this war is illegal and any soldier that participates in it, participates in an illegal war.

‘Military Families Against The War believes the Iraq war is illegal and is calling for his immediate release.’

Bereaved relatives had gone into parliament to meet MPs and get them to persuade Blair to meet with the families and lobby him for the end of the war.

Hayley, from Somerset, who didn’t want to give her full name because of relatives serving in Iraq, walked out of parliament, saying: ‘I’m angry about what some of these MPs are telling us, that they’ve been lied to.

‘We are the ones who have lost members of our families in Iraq.

‘They may have believed what Blair told them, but we didn’t necessarily believe it and they’re the ones who made the decision to send our relatives to war.

‘My brother was sent to Iraq. Now he’s back in Britain, but it’s possible he could be in Iran by next Christmas, or Afghanistan.

‘How can they tell us they understand and have sympathy for the military families. They have no idea.’

Beverley Clarke told News Line: ‘They keep saying there is freedom of speech, but if I was to stand up in the middle of Parliament Square and say exactly how I felt about this war, I’d get arrested. There is no freedom of speech.

‘I lost my son. He was killed on March 25, 2003.

‘Tony Blair said he would see me, but only if I gave him a list of my questions in advance.

‘This is just Bush’s way of thinking he can finish what his father started.

‘Bush said when he came to Britain that he would meet certain military families.

‘But when we asked if we could go to meet him, we were told we did not meet the criteria.

‘So what is the criteria? We are all relatives who have lost loved ones out there.

‘My son went out there and died for a lie.

‘He could have chosen to stay in this country a little longer and been a firefighter. At least he would be protecting his people.

‘If he had known he was being sent to Iraq on a lie, I honestly don’t believe my son would have wanted to go.’

Beverley Clarke added that: ‘We were told two weeks after David’s death that they had recovered a body and they were trying to identify who it was.

‘It took them another nine weeks to tell us it wasn’t David they’d brought back.

‘We’ve never been told officially why there was such a delay.’

‘I’ll never forgive the MoD,’ said her son’s grandfather. ‘To get my family to go through this has made me ill.’

Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was killed in Iraq on June 24, 2003, stood against Blair on a anti-war platform during the general election last year.

He told News Line: ‘We are here to highlight the ongoing issue of Iraq.

‘We can’t have a prime minister walk through such a catastrophic political blunder as Iraq with impunity.

‘I think Iraq now is deemed a strategic failure and there should be a phased withdrawal from a conflict that’s unwinnable.

‘We’ve lobbied MPs on this issue and we now go to the Cenotaph to lay a wreath and then go on to 10 Downing Street, handing in a letter asking the prime minister to meet with the families, to ask him some questions about our sons.

‘They were deployed into a conflict without international backing and against international law.

‘I think Mr Kendall-Smith is a man of his convictions and I support his stand,’ Reg Keys added. ‘It’s a pity there’s not a few more.

‘He should be immediately released. He’s a prisoner of conscience.’

Jonathan Williams, an ex-RAF serviceman, said: ‘I want the immediate withdrawal of British troops from all war zones they’re involved in as part of American imperialist aggrandisement and the release of Malcolm Kendall-Smith.’

Peace campaigner Brian Haw, who is mounting a non-stop vigil outside parliament against the Iraq war, made serious allegations about police conduct at Westminster.

He alleged: ‘An Indian man had his face ground in the dirt by police.

‘He was standing up with a piece of paper.

‘It was “only’’ a “little bit of blood’’, but he was one of those speaking out against the greater violence taking place elsewhere.’