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Iraq War families threaten legal action over Chilcot report delay

Published 13/08/2015

Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon of the Intelligence Corps died in a bomb blast in Basra in 2005
Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon of the Intelligence Corps died in a bomb blast in Basra in 2005

Families of soldiers killed in the Iraq War will take legal action if the Chilcot Inquiry is not published by the end of the year, the father of one of the war dead has said.

Reg Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed in Iraq in 2003 aged 20, criticised inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot for not understanding the feelings of the bereaved.

Mr Keys is part of a group of 29 families who have issued a legal ultimatum to Sir John, believing the law requiring inquiries to be concluded in a reasonable timeframe may have been breached.

Much of the anger is focused on the ongoing "Maxwellisation" process, which gives the opportunity to individuals facing possible criticism in the report to respond and is holding up publication.

The delay has been a growing source of frustration for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has demanded a timetable for publication be set out "pretty soon", but Whitehall sources do not expect one before Parliament returns in September.

Sir John insisted last month that his inquiry - launched in 2009 - was making "significant progress", although he could not set a date for the publication of his findings.

But Mr Keys said the families of soldiers killed need closure and called on Sir John to publish the report by the end of 2015 or face legal action.

He criticised Sir John for failing to grasp the gravity of the war and insisted that there is no legal requirement for the inquiry to go through the Maxwellisation process.

Mr Keys told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think what Sir John doesn't understand is the strength of feeling amongst the bereaved.

"I think what Sir John has to bear in mind now is that we want closure on this, it has to be done fair, it has to be done right.

"But he's had time enough now and he's not imposing deadlines on this and that's where our argument is, we want to give a deadline now, by the end of the year or legal action will be following."

Mr Keys said the failure to publish the inquiry is stopping him moving on from his son's death.

He said: "Tom was killed in 2003 and Iraq bubbles up in the headlines over the years and it's like an open wound that is continually prodded.

"The only way for me to move on from this now is to consign Iraq to history and part of doing so is to get this inquiry published.

"Yes I'd like to see Tony Blair dragged in shackles off to court as a war criminal because we have to bear in mind 180 British service personnel were killed here, over 3,500 wounded, two million Iraqis fled Iraq, over 100,000 innocent Iraqis have been killed.

"This is an inquiry into a war. This isn't an inquiry into, I don't know, the price of milk, the price of rail travel or the price of energy, and I don't think Sir John has actually got that to be honest, the gravity of what's happened here."

Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman Crispin Blunt said he did not expect to see the report before next year but stressed that it will be stronger for having given those criticised the chance to respond.

The Tory MP told the programme: "If the people being criticised have the opportunity to respond and for those responses if they are valid then to be incorporated into the report, or if not, not incorporated into the whole report, that does mean that the inquiry itself will carry even more authority.

"I think that should be borne in mind, we are engaged in a process that is going to produce an inquiry into an immensely important historic event and the Maxwellisation process gives us the best chance of getting it right."

Former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who occupied the post when the decision on Iraq was taken, said the delay in publication was nothing to do with witnesses to the inquiry.

The former Labour MP said: "I have always understood their frustration and obviously my frustration simply as a witness and a major decision-maker are tiny compared to those of the bereaved families.

"But Sir John Chilcot has made it clear that the delays which have occurred are nothing whatever to do with witnesses and it has to be in everybody's interest, but above all in the families', to have this report out as soon as humanly possible."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: " I share the frustration of the families of those who died or were injured in the Iraq war.

"The problem here is that the form of the inquiry was too loose and unstructured and lacked the discipline which the appointment of counsel to the inquiry would have brought.

"In the last parliament I raised these matters with David Cameron and he agreed with me that neither the form of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday nor Chilcot could be justified in the future.

"The Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking chaired by a judge with a strict timetable imposed from the beginning should be the model adopted from now on."

Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham told the Press Association: "The delay is frustrating for everyone but obviously more so for the families, so I do understand their feelings. In the end, it is a matter for the inquiry.

"There are processes that have to be followed and I am certain they are being done to the letter. It is not, in the end, a political decision. This is an independent process. Yes things have to be done properly, but I think everybody would now say as soon as possible let's publish the report."

The families were given the support of another would-be Labour leader, Liz Kendall.

She told the Press Association: "I think they are right to call for a deadline for the report to be published by the end of the year.

"This has been going on for far too long. People need to see the results of the inquiry. We need to have it published quickly.

"It has taken too long and I completely understand what the families are doing, what they want and what they are calling for and I would back that."

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