"Tony, can we trust you after Iraq?"

On the eve of Britain's election, some relatives of dead soldiers threaten to take Blair to court for war crimes.

Published May 4, 2005 3:54PM (EDT)

Tony Blair Tuesday was given a taste of the lingering anger over Iraq when a Labor supporter confronted him and asked how he could ever trust him again. "Tony, can we trust you after Iraq?" Muhammad Jaffer asked the prime minister as he left a campaign rally in Gloucester. "We have lost hundreds of lives, thousands of lives," he said. "We got the impression you were just following President Bush."

The prime minister replied: "In the end you have got to try to do as prime minister what you think it is right or appropriate to do."

The confrontation came as relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq took the first step in a series of court actions over the war. They delivered a letter to Downing Street, demanding an independent public inquiry into the legality of the war and the sending of troops into a conflict on what they say were false pretenses. Blair was given a 14-day deadline to agree to an inquiry before the families make an application for a judicial review under the Human Rights Act.

"Each of our clients' loved ones were killed when they had been told by you that they were fighting a war that was fully justified in international law in order to disarm a country that held weapons of mass destruction," says the letter drawn up by the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers.

The recent publication of the legal opinion on the war given by the attorney general on March 7, 2003, and leaks of official documents threw "into grave doubt the supposed justification and rationale for the war," it says. At the very least, the letter adds, "a reasonable suspicion arises that you committed the U.K. ... to war on the basis of regime change," knowing that Lord Goldsmith advised this was an unlawful basis for war.

The letter was delivered to No 10. in the name of 10 families, including Reg Keys, whose son, Thomas, a military policeman, was killed in Iraq. Keys is standing against Blair in Sedgefield.

Earlier Tuesday, the widow of Coldstream Guardsman Anthony Wakefield, who was killed by a roadside bomb near Amara, southeastern Iraq, on Monday, said of Blair: "If he had never sent them over there, Anthony would still be alive."

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son, Gordon, was killed in Basra last June, said she was determined to take Blair to court for "war crimes."

Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, said the families hoped to achieve accountability. "They are entitled to know that their loved ones did not die in vain," he said. He said the chance of the high court allowing a judicial review was "at least 50 percent." The high court last year ruled that British soldiers in Iraq were restrained by the Human Rights Act in their treatment of Iraqis under their control. Some lawyers now say the government exposed British troops to unnecessary risk of death.

The families are also preparing a case for a private prosecution, charging Blair and the government with the crime of aggression -- a move the attorney general warned Blair about in his March 7, 2003, advice.

By Richard Norton-Taylor

By Nicholas Watt

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