In an explosive legal letter, bereaved families have given the Chilcot inquiry a two-week ultimatum to set a date for releasing its report.

Ian Drury & Tom Kelly

Grieving families of British troops killed in Iraq last night launched an unprecedented legal battle to force Sir John Chilcot to publish his official report into the war.

Relatives desperate to learn the truth about why Tony Blair sent their sons and daughters to fight branded the delay ‘morally reprehensible’.

The inquiry has already taken a staggering six years and cost the taxpayer £10million, but the retired civil servant has refused to even set a timetable amid claims it could take another year.

Bereaved parents are disgusted their suffering is being dragged out while Sir John gives leading figures in the inquiry, such as Mr Blair, the chance to rebut its findings – a process known as Maxwellisation.

Now, in an explosive legal letter, they have given Sir John a two-week ultimatum to set a date for releasing the report by the end of the year or they will fight him in the courts.

If successful, the families’ campaign could lead to the exposure of incredibly sensitive paperwork that Whitehall mandarins refused to hand to the Iraq Inquiry.

The legal action comes after David Cameron urged Sir John to hurry up with his findings.

But at least 29 families spearheading the legal battle claim the decision not to set a deadline for the publication of the final report is ‘unlawful’.

Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon, 34, died in a roadside bomb blast in Basra ten years ago, said: ‘We have lost our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and if we don’t get answers as to why they died, it will all have been a waste of time.

‘It is morally reprehensible to keep delaying the publication of the report.

‘It is utterly incomprehensible that the inquiry has been going on for six years and it is still not finished.’

Reg Keys, who lost 20-year-old son Lance-Corporal Thomas Keys in Iraq, described the continued delays as like an ‘open sore that can’t heal’.

He said: ‘We want to draw a line under this Iraq war so we can move on, but before that we need to know what it was all for. We want to know why Blair went against the UN and took us into Iraq while other European allies refused to join the war.

‘I need to know what my son died for given that Iraq is now worse than it was before and has become a fermenting ground for terrorism.

‘Sir John doesn’t seem to understand that these are real people that have lost loved ones.’ Valerie O’Neill, whose 27-year-old son Kris was killed by a roadside bomb in 2007, said: ‘We’ve waited long enough for this report into an illegal war.

‘We’ve all been promised this report but it’s been delay after delay after delay. How many more years do we have to wait?

‘Some people hoped we would go away quietly, but we won’t. We deserve the answers about why our children died, and we won’t give up until we get them.’

The family of Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, killed when her boat was blown up in the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran in 2006, are also among those taking part in the legal challenge.

General Sir Michael Rose, a former SAS commander who is backing the families’ fight, said: ‘If justice and fairness is not primarily afforded to those who have been most damaged – in this case the Iraq families as well as the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have been injured – then Chilcot has got it terribly wrong.’

Delays have been caused by a stand-off between the inquiry and Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood – nicknamed ‘Sir Cover-Up’ – over the publication of conversations and communications between Mr Blair and George W Bush.

The families have requested all the documents relating to the Maxwellisation process. But, crucially, the demand is ‘not necessarily limited to’ these files – meaning other significant papers could be handed over.

Their lawyers say the Maxwellisation process is a convention not set down in law, and should not have led to ‘interminable’ delays.

They say that Sir John, 76, has breached the inquiry’s own protocols by not setting an end date.

The inquiry sent letters to witnesses, including Mr Blair, warning them of any likely criticisms at the end of last year. But some are believed to be dragging out the process to hold-up the report in a bid to avoid criticism.

Mr Blair has dismissed reports that he is among those who have been delaying completion. Matthew Jury of McCue and Partners solicitors, which is representing the families, said: ‘Not only did our clients suffer when their loved ones perished but this suffering has been compounded by the fact that they do not know why they were deployed to Iraq and for what, ultimately, they died.

‘This immense grief has not lessened with the passage of time. Instead, it endures whilst the inquiry is ongoing. They desperately need the final report to be published as soon as possible so that, at long last, they may hope to find some degree of closure.’

If Sir John refuses to set a date for publication, the families will apply for a judicial review in which judges could order the Iraq Inquiry to disclose the report.

The war, which began in 2003, cost the lives of 179 British troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians. Gordon Brown started the inquiry in 2009, ending years of Labour resistance, and it finished taking formal evidence in 2011.

At the weekend, it was reported that Sir John, who pockets up to £790 a day of taxpayers’ cash, was working only eight hours a week at his Westminster office.

The inquiry has had to study more than 150,000 documents but last month it emerged Sir John had turned down the offer of extra resources to speed up the process.

A spokesman for the inquiry said Sir John had received a ‘large proportion’ of replies from individuals who were to be criticised, and that these would be ‘considered with care’.

Quoting a letter the chairman sent to the Prime Minister on June 15, he said: ‘Only when all responses are in our possession and have been evaluated will I be able to [set] a realistic timetable for completion. We therefore intend to complete our task as quickly as possible.’

General Sir Michael Rose: Scandal of this endless legal ping-pong

As a former Adjutant General of the British Army responsible for military personnel and their families, and also as one of the few senior retired military figures who argued vehemently against the Iraq War, I have become increasingly concerned that the interests of the 179 families who lost sons and daughters during that war and the thousands of service personnel who were injured, are not being properly represented by the Chilcot Inquiry.

It has now been six years that they have had to wait to see if their loved ones were killed or wounded in a just, legitimate war or whether, as many people believe, Blair and his cohorts at the very least led them into an unwinnable, arguably illegal, and certainly costly war by distorting the intelligence so as to justify the reasons for going to war.

When Sir John Chilcot opened his inquiry, he declared that he would not shy away from criticism and it is therefore likely that people like Blair have indeed come in for criticism – not only for the way that he led this country into war, but also for his poor management of the war thereafter.

Unfortunately, following an inquiry in 1974 into the activities of the failed businessman Robert Maxwell, a legal precedent was established which allows anyone who is subject to criticism during an inquiry, to ‘make any representations on the proposed criticism prior to publication’. This has inevitably opened the way for delay and prevarication.

It is simply not good enough for Chilcot to state that ‘no one has taken an unreasonable length of time to respond given the range and complexity of the issues’.

It seems to me that in applying the ‘Maxwellisation Process’ so zealously Sir John has disproportionately represented the interests of senior politicians, senior civil servants and senior members of the Armed Forces rather than those of family members who, in my view, have a clear and vastly superior right to know why and for what their loved ones died.

If Sir John Chilcot does not comply with the wishes of the families, then a judicial review into what might in the future become known as the ‘Chilcot Process’ must take place.

For if justice and fairness is not primarily afforded to those who have been most damaged – in this case the Iraq families as well as the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have been injured – then Chilcot has got it terribly wrong.

The time has come to stop these endless games of legalistic ping pong whose winners can only be those who bear the blame for the invasion of Iraq and its appalling consequences.

Bereaved father tells the BBC Tony Blair is a war criminal

Source: Mail Online

13 Aug 2015

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