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The Western Mail on: 05.07.2004

Blair's letter hardened my heart, says bereaved dad

The father of the North Wales Red Cap slain in Iraq has spoken of how his resolve has hardened against Tony Blair after receiving a "heartfelt" letter from the Prime Minister outlining his reasons for war.

In what has been dubbed a "deeply personal and eloquent reply", which reveals the Prime Minister's "anguish" over Iraq, Mr Blair revealed he was as fallible as any other human being.

The comments were part of a four-page handwritten letter in reply to correspondence from Reg Keys, whose 20-year-old son Tom, from Bala, was one of six Royal Military policemen shot dead in Iraq last June.

Mr Blair said, of Lance Corporal Keys and his colleagues' deaths, "I do believe their lives were lost in a just and important cause, for which future generations will be grateful."

But Mr Keys, who accused Mr Blair of sacrificing his son's life because he was not brave enough to stand up to US President George Bush, told The Western Mail, Blair's letter had not pacified him.

"Blair's incompetence resulted in the death of British servicemen," Mr Keys said.

"I believe his position is no longer tenable.

"I feel he wrote to me because it was his duty to do so, because my son's death was such a high-profile incident.

"This letter goes no way towards pacifying me - quite the opposite, as time goes, my opinions are hardened even more."

Lance Corporal Keys died with five other Red Caps six weeks after the official end of the war last June, when they were attacked by 400 Iraqis in a police station in Al Majar Al Kabir, 120 miles north of Basra.

The military policemen, from 156 Provost Company, were there to train Iraqi police officers when they were attacked during demonstrations against what were seen as heavy-handed weapons searches by British forces days earlier.

Mr Keys received the hand-written reply from Mr Blair in February but the contents of the letter have remained private until this weekend. They were leaked by an unknown source - Mr Keys said he did not release the information - to a Sunday tabloid.

The letter, reported in a Sunday national paper, revealed the "inner turmoil and self-doubt" Mr Blair experienced before sending British troops into Iraq last year.

Mr Blair wrote, "I am as prone to fallibility as any other human being and my judgement that war was the right course to take led to British troops being engaged.

"So it was a judgement of fundamental nature that it was my duty to get right."

He went on to defend the decision to invade Iraq and sent Mr Keys a copy of a report by Dr David Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group.

The Prime Minister highlighted that despite the fact Dr Kay said no weapons of mass destruction had been found, he also said Saddam Hussein's WMD programme continued and "it was necessary to act".

But Mr Keys said these comments were the "usual political rhetoric" touted by politicians still trying to justify the war in the face of no evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - the official reason for the war in Iraq.

"Blair has got it wrong big-time," Mr Keys said.

"WMD have not been found, even with all these insurgent attacks on coalition forces. If there were WMD in Iraq, they would have been used in these attacks against coalition forces, instead of home-made bombs.

"Blair didn't have the backbone to stand up to Bush and he's now displaying signs of double standards.

"He put pressure on Greg Dyke to go because he didn't double-check Gilligan's story; Piers Morgan was sacked because he didn't check the authenticity of the pictures allegedly showing British troops abusing Iraqi soldiers; and now Blunkett is forcing the chief of police of Humberside to resign because his force did not double-check Huntley's background.

"The Prime Minister didn't double-check MI6 intelligence and now 60 British servicemen are dead and thousands of innocent Iraqis.

"My son died because he was lied to."