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Was our son murdered by the CIA?

JENNY SHIELDS

IT HAS been a difficult month for Robin and Daphne Wild. In July last year, their son Richard was murdered in Iraq, shot in the back of the head as he crossed the road in Baghdad.

Since then, the parents of the Cambridge University graduate have tried to piece together the events of that day. Mr and Mrs Wild - who feel they have been hindered, rather than helped, by the Foreign Office at every turn - have come to a startling conclusion; they believe their sonís murder was ordered by the CIA.

The Wilds are intelligent, educated people, not generally given to conspiracy theories or flights of fancy. The tale of their horrendous year is told in simple, moving terms, with a constant air of disbelief at what has happened.

"We are not naive, we know unpalatable things are done," says Mrs Wild. "But when you are drawn into it, it is terrifying."

She is shivering as she speaks, as a squally wind and heavy mist casts a summer chill over the Wildsí baronial home in the shadow of the Eildon hills in the Scottish Borders. As she wonders if she should light a fire, Mrs Wild recalls how different things were last summer.

"It was blazing hot and everyone was outside, hunting for shade," she remembers. Richard had come home for a few days and the family spent many fruitless hours trying to dissuade him from going to Iraq. It was his first foreign trip as a freelance journalist and his parents were alarmed. "He wouldnít listen to us," says Mr Wild.

Mrs Wild was irritated by her sonís stubbornness, but the family still had a very happy few days before he left. "One afternoon, it was very warm and I was having a nap at the bottom of the garden. Richard and a girlfriend were walking round, laughing. There was a heavy scent of roses and I thought, ĎEnjoy this day, hold on to it, remember ití."

Two weeks later, Richard was dead. He was 24.

The youngest of the Wildsí three children enjoyed a gilded youth: dux of the local prep school, head boy at Sedbergh School, a good degree from Jesus College, Cambridge. He was also a talented sportsman, tall, handsome and effortlessly popular with a huge circle of friends.

An early flirtation with investment banking and a short spell at Sothebyís left him unfulfilled. He decided he wanted to be a journalist, badgering news organisations and writing articles. He spent six months at ITN working as a logger - monitoring hours of TV footage from the Gulf war - and made himself useful.

Last spring, he began making plans to go to Iraq. His parents insist he was not a gung-ho war junkie, but was more interested in covering the aftermath of the war. Richard spent a small fortune on kit - video camera, laptop, satellite phone - and hitched a lift with the BBC from Amman to Baghdad. His death made news, but he wasnít the first journalist to die; the story ran for a day, some papers carried a report of his funeral and that was it.

Mr and Mrs Wild heard about their sonís death in a late-night Foreign Office call. "We were told he had been surrounded by an angry mob and shot. They have never presented us with new information; we have had to put the pieces together ourselves," says Mr Wild.

"There was no equivocation [from] the Foreign Office," his wife continues. "They seemed to have a very clear idea of what had happened and so of course we believed it, absolutely. We had no reason to question what we were being told."

Initially, the Wilds believed Richard died immediately. They later discovered that a young Iraqi medical student went to his aid. "Somehow he managed to get Richard to a hospital; Richard was in a very bad way but still breathing," says Mr Wild. "But no-one came to help Richard and maybe itís as well - there would have been no quality of life."

The Wilds, both 63, understand the assassin parked in the university car park and waited for Richard to come out of the natural history museum. He crossed to the taxi rank where Richard was standing and shot him in the back of the head, then walked into a crowd and disappeared.

Shortly after Richard was shot, two British journalists - Michael Burke, an independent TV producer for whom Richard was working two days a week, and Lee Gordon - arrived at the British office in Baghdad to report the incident. "They werenít even let into the building; all they got was a brusque exchange over the intercom," says Mrs Wild. "The official said they knew about the shooting, but said it had nothing to do with them. Richard, they were told, had been in the army so they should be told about it."

Mrs Wild is outraged by this: "In 1996, he had a gap year commission which involved a short time at Sandhurst and being a platoon commander for six months - hardly an army career."

Beneath the outward composure as the Wilds tell their story is a seething anger at the way they have been treated. In the immediate aftermath of his death, Mrs Wild publicly railed against her sonís foolhardiness in going to Iraq, saying it was "no place for a rookie". Now her anger is directed at the government.

"We donít expect to ever know the whole story - and we wonít spend the rest of our lives trying to," says Mrs Wild. "But we wanted people to know that the story the Foreign Office gave us was not the truth."

They say the repatriation of Richardís body was handled incompetently - and when he was finally flown home, there was more heartbreak. "We discovered that he had lain, unrefrigerated, in the Baghdad heat for ten days - for a mother to discover that her child was actually left to rot is something almost too cruel to bear," says Mrs Wild.

The Wilds buried their son in a small country churchyard close to home and were trying to adjust to life without him when their lives were turned upside down again last autumn. They were contacted by Michael Burke, who had returned from Iraq with some of Richardís possessions. He suggested a meeting and the Wilds saw him at Euston station; they were surprised at Mr Burkeís insistence that their conversation should not be overheard. Mr Wild recalls: "We were sitting in that glorious pale autumn sunlight and for the next two hours, we heard things that made hair on the back of our necks stand up."

As a former chief dental officer for England and Wales, Mr Wild "knows how things work"; yet even he could barely believe what Mr Burke - who had spoken to eyewitnesses - told him. "Far from being picked off on the spur of the moment by a mob, we were being told our son had been assassinated, probably by the CIA. He had not been in Baghdad long but he was asking questions, rocking the boat, maybe making himself unpopular. As a journalist he was not Ďon messageí. We think he knew something that could have destabilised, or certainly embarrassed, the coalition and thatís why he was killed."

More than this, the Wilds have resigned themselves to never finding out. They will not spend the rest of their lives campaigning and harrying government for answers. "Political assassinations involve cover-ups," says Mrs Wild. "We do not have the resources to find out exactly what went on, but we have certainly found out more than we were told."

They are relieved to hear that Yunis Kuthair, a freelance Iraqi journalist who had been investigating Richardís death, has been released from Abu Ghraib prison, but whether he, or anyone, will ever be able to shed more light on Richardís death, they donít know. Through the Rory Peck Trust - established in memory of the freelance cameraman killed during the coup in Moscow ten years ago - they have met the families of other young Britons whose lives have been cut short, some in suspicious circumstances.

That has eased some of the pain, but the anger at the official handling of Richardís death will never completely abate. The Wilds were shocked to hear that the Foreign Office admitted initial reports about Richardís death had been "misleading" but were delivered in good faith.

The Foreign Office also claimed to have given the family new information when it came to light. "That is a complete falsehood," says Mr Wild. "They have never been proactive in this and all the new information we have received has come to us from other sources."

Mrs Wild takes a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, from a pile of papers. "Look at this," she says. "He waffles on about the coalition military authorities being severely limited in their ability to investigate crimes and then says: ĎI can assure you that the nature of Richardís work had no impact on whether or not there was an investigationí. Is he being deliberately obtuse? The whole point is that it was the nature of Richardís death that might have influenced whether there was an investigation."

Last month, the Wilds spent another fruitless hour at the Foreign Office. "We saw someone else this time, a nice young woman and I could see she was shocked at what we had to tell her - she was in tears twice - but I donít expect her concern will motivate them to find out what really happened to Richard," says Mrs Wild.

The Wilds know that at some point soon, they must move on - emotionally and physically. "One day, we have to be sensible and move to a smaller house. Much of the time, itís just the two of us rattling around," says Mrs Wild.

However, the thought of ever leaving the only family home Richard ever had is causing her great anxiety: "He was here, in these rooms, I remember where I used to place his pram, I remember him playing in the garden. This was his home."