Picture: Simon Hulme

For the sake of my son, why I refused to shake Blair's blood-covered hands

I believe Tony Blair to be a war criminal, says Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun, died in 2003.

Yorkshire Post, 12 October 2009, by  Sheena Hastings

PETER Brierley says he's not known as a man who enjoys confrontation. His family and friends were quite shocked to think of him marching up to the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, refusing to shake his hand, tearing a couple of strips off him, then turning on his heel and stalking away.


Famously the master of self-possession and quick to reach for a snippet of handy phrasemaking, by all accounts Mr Blair was left ashen and speechless by the encounter with the straight-talking 59-year-old from Batley.

Mr Brierley had often thought about what he might say if he ever came eyeball-to-eyeball with the man who took the country into the war in which his 28-year-old son Shaun died, but when the meeting came, it was not how he would ever have planned it.

The two men were at a reception in London's Guildhall, following a memorial service where Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had expressed concern about the political decisions surrounding the war. Mr Brierley campaigned for years as part of the Military Families Against the War group for an inquiry to be held into the reasons for going into Iraq.

"The service was to celebrate the end of the war in Iraq, those who had served and those who lost their lives," says Mr Brierley, who attended the ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral with his wife Christine. "Prince Charles and Camilla were there with Prince William. A lot of positive things were said, and the Archbishop made some very good points in his address. I felt that if this Government listened to his words they would end the war in Aghanistan now."

There were about 1,000 people at the reception afterwards, and someone pointed out that Tony Blair was present, across the room. "I hadn't seen him at the service, and felt that, as the man had taken us to war, who walked away from his job two years ago, it was wrong that he should be there at all at a non-political celebration.

"A while later I looked across and Blair was signing autographs for people, on the cover of the programmes we were given for the service. Suddenly a switch went in my head, and before I knew it I was over there. I said 'Mr Blair...' and he stuck his hand out to me.

"I told him 'I don't want to shake your hand. It has blood on it the blood of my son, the blood of all the other soldiers who died and of the Iraqi people who also died in the war. You took us to war on a lie and you are responsible for all those deaths in Iraq. One day it will come back on you and you'll have to pay for what you did. I don't think you should be here, but I'm going to leave now.'"

As Mr Brierley turned away, Tony Blair was also ushered away. The bereaved father doesn't regret delivering the dressing down but wishes it had been in different circumstances. "It just happened the way it happened, but I don't really think it was an appropriate place, after such a positive, celebratory service."

Mr Brierley has always argued that, while soldiers know they must go to war if necessary and might die, they should only be taken into war for good reason and properly equipped to fight. L/Cpl Shaun Brierley died in the early days of the war, in a night-time road accident on the main supply road between the Kuwait border and Baghdad, and his father says he was one of the British soldiers lost because of lack of adequate equipment.

"Shaun was a radio operator, and he was involved in the first few weeks in setting up camps. He was taking two officers to inspect a new camp when the vehicle overturned and threw him out. At the inquest, we were told that because of how a thermal imaging detector was fitted to the wrong light on the vehicle, they would not have been able to see the debris in the road that made the vehicle roll over."

Shaun died on Mother's Day in March 2003, and in the early hours of Monday the knock on the door came. The family were given eight hours to tell the news to anyone close to them, before Shaun's name would be released to the press by the Ministry of Defence.

"We had a short time to grasp that our lovely, lively son had gone before the phone started ringing. He was known as 'the bear' in the Army, at six-foot and 16 stone. Everyone used to laugh about his 'velcro stripe' because when he was promoted he'd have the stripe taken away for some bit of bother he'd got himself into. Then it was given back, and a bit later he'd maybe get in an argument again. He was very lovable."

Following Shaun's death and the inquest, Mr Brierley began campaigning for better equipment for British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, amid reports of forces stretched to the limit and poor and "patched-up" equipment. He also joined the Stop the War Coalition, and, with families of other armed services personnel lost in the conflict, fought and failed in a legal battle to challenge the Government's refusal of a public inquiry into the war's legality.

But now an inquiry is happening. The value of the Chilcot Inquiry, which was announced in June and is led by former top civil servant Sir John Chilcot, is likely to lie less in any startling new disclosures about why the war was fought than in the catharsis of allowing those affected a chance to air their grievances. It's thought to be highly unlikely that startling new revelations about Tony Blair and his advisers will come to light during the hearings, which will probably last about 18 months.

Peter Brierley and others who lost loved ones in Iraq are to meet members of the Inquiry panel in Manchester this Friday as part of a regional tour to listen to the views of families bereaved by the war. Peter and Christine Brierley hope the conclusions reached will somehow help to draw a line in the sand. But Mr Brierley isn't too happy at the brief set out for the Sir John and colleagues.

"All the evidence suggests that Blair and others Gordon Brown was Chancellor and must have sanctioned the spending, and the Ministry of Defence agreed that resources were available took us to war on a lie. It's good that the inquiry will look for lessons to be learned, and that is important. But I think they should actually be allowed to apportion blame.

"Looking at what's been happening in Aghanistan, things haven't improved. I believe Tony Blair to be a war criminal. What he did was a crime against humanity invading a country, wrecking that country, losing 179 British lives and wounding many more, and also killing unknown numbers of Iraqi citizens."

As a man not given to confrontation, does Peter Brierley have any regrets about his outburst to the former PM?

"No, it made me feel better. I'd do it again, but next time I'd plan it better and do it in a different place."

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