Prime Minister refuses to meet mother of Iraq war victim

(Gold9472: 9/11 and 7/7. Bush refuses to investigate. Blair refuses to investigate. Iraq War lies exposed. Cindy Sheehan loses her son Casey. Bush refuses to meet with her. Rose Gentle loses her son Gordon. Blair refuses to meet with her. Are they reading from the exact same playbook?)

By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor

Tony Blair has declined to meet the mother of a teenage soldier killed during the Iraq war, provoking an angry reaction and condemnation from other politicians.

Blair’s refusal came in a letter to Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon died in a roadside explosion in Basra in 2004.

He also said the government would not backdate new compensation payments to include Gentle and defended the position of denying the dead soldier a pension.

The row follows correspondence between Gentle’s mother and Downing Street, and comes days after the 100th British soldier was killed in Iraq.

Rose Gentle, an anti-war demonstrator, wrote to the Labour leader in November and asked for a meeting to discuss the conflict.

The Prime Minister responded 10 days ago with a personal letter to the grieving mother.

He noted her request for a meeting but declined the invitation and offered no reason for the rebuff. “I am afraid a meeting will not be possible but I will try to answer the points you have raised as fully as I can,” he wrote.

He then addressed Gentle’s complaint that her son was not entitled to either a pension or the new compensation deal recently introduced.

Ministers changed the rules on compensation last year, after it was revealed British soldiers killed in Iraq got a maximum of £27,500 while relatives of Americans received up to £270,000.

The Government increased the payments but did not make the new deal retrospective meaning only applied to soldiers killed on or after April 1, 2005 – a date that excluded Gentle and a number of others.

The Prime Minister defended the cutoff point in his letter: “This is because whatever particular conflict or date was decided, there would always be a group of families who would consider the new arrangements should have included them as well.”

Blair also backed the MoD’s reason for denying Gentle’s son a pension – he wasn’t married – by saying the policy had been in force for many years: “I know this will be disappointing but there is, I assure you, nothing new in this approach on service pensions which has been followed by successive governments.”

He added that a cut-off point did not mean he valued Gordon Gentle’s life any less than the soldiers who died after him: “I am sorry that I cannot give you the answer that you were seeking on this point.

“It certainly does not mean that I value your son’s life less than those who died after the changes.”

The Prime Minister, who writes to the families of every serviceman killed overseas, uses his discretion to meet bereaved families.

He has in the past held private discussions with parents at memorial services although he has not attended the funeral of any soldier killed in Iraq.

Rose Gentle last night described the letter as “patronising and insulting” and reiterated her call for a meeting.

“This letter makes me very angry. He’s the one who says our sons are fighting for their country and he is proud of them, so I think he should have a bit of dignity and meet with the mums. He was almost saying ‘bugger off’.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell criticised the Prime Minister for refusing to meet Rose Gentle.

“The way a nation treats the families of those who have died in their country’s service is a test of our decency. It seems unfortunate that the Prime Minister has not found time to meet Mrs Gentle,” he said.

SNP leader Alex Salmond said: “The Prime Minister should hang his head in shame.

“One aspect of the responsibility for sending people to war is you have to be able to face the relatives of those people who have fallen as casualties. The Prime Minister is going to be judged by his actions.”

But Labour MP Eric Joyce said he was sympathetic to Rose Gentle but stated that her complaints were a matter for the MoD: “There is a great deal of sympathy for her plight, but there are many people demanding a meeting.

“I really think it is the job of the MoD to liaise. The Prime Minister cannot meet everybody.”