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British troop memorial event in London snubs families of fallen, claims widow

By Aine Fox

The handling of the unveiling of a memorial to the thousands of British soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan has been criticised as "crass" by a Northern Ireland military widow.

Brenda Hale (48) said she was "floored" to hear the event in London this week, to be attended by the Queen, was not open to all close family members of those servicemen and women who died in the conflicts.

The Iraq Afghanistan memorial will be dedicated at a service attended by 2,500 people, including civil servants and politicians, as well as veterans and relatives of those who lost loved ones.

Mrs Hale, whose husband Captain Mark Hale was killed in Afghanistan in 2009, accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of failing to understand the plight of the bereaved.

She said: "If it is the case that the charities have been left to decide who is to attend and who isn't, that is completely crass. For that to happen, it speaks volumes that the MoD, despite the conflicts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and despite the number of families falling through the net, they still haven't got their act together and they still don't understand what it is like to be the family left behind, the family that has to go on alone."

Mrs Hale, who said she did not receive an invite for Thursday's unveiling, insisted all families of dead service personnel should have been given the option to attend, or arrangements made for them to see the service.

She said: "Every bereaved family should be invited and whether they can fit them in or not is neither here nor there.

"The bereaved families should be recognised because they are still living that war. They (the MoD) need to step up and honour those men and women who died, but also honour their families because we are still living with that loss."

Mrs Hale, who lost her seat as a DUP MLA in last week's election, entered politics to campaign for better treatment of soldiers and their families.

Another widow, Wendy Rayner from Bradford, said she had spoken to a number of people who were "upset - they feel they have been forgotten".

Her husband Sergeant Peter Rayner was killed by an improvised explosive device during a routine patrol in Afghanistan in 2010.

The MoD said the memorial will represent the more than 300,000 people who served in the conflicts between 1990 and 2015 and those who supported their efforts from the UK, not just those who died.

"Given the significant scale and 25-year period being recognised, attendance at Thursday's unveiling must be representative in nature," a statement read.

"It is right that each of those groups commemorated is represented - including current serving personnel, bereaved families, veterans, gallantry award winners, charities and the many civilian organisations that played a role.

"To ensure each group is represented, charities and groups representing the bereaved were asked to suggest attendees, and we look forward to welcoming them on Thursday."

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