PETER Brierley says he's not
known as a man who enjoys confrontation. His family and friends were
quite shocked to think of him marching up to the former Prime
Minister of the United Kingdom, refusing to shake his hand, tearing
a couple of strips off him, then turning on his heel and stalking
Famously the master of self-possession
and quick to reach for a snippet of handy phrasemaking, by all
accounts Mr Blair was left ashen and speechless by the encounter
with the straight-talking 59-year-old from Batley.
Mr Brierley had often thought about what he might say if he ever
came eyeball-to-eyeball with the man who took the country into the
war in which his 28-year-old son Shaun died, but when the meeting
came, it was not how he would ever have planned it.
The two men were at a reception in London's Guildhall, following a
memorial service where Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had
expressed concern about the political decisions surrounding the war.
Mr Brierley campaigned for years as part of the Military Families
Against the War group for an inquiry to be held into the reasons for
going into Iraq.
"The service was to celebrate the end of the war in Iraq, those who
had served and those who lost their lives," says Mr Brierley, who
attended the ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral with his wife
Christine. "Prince Charles and Camilla were there with Prince
William. A lot of positive things were said, and the Archbishop made
some very good points in his address. I felt that if this Government
listened to his words they would end the war in Aghanistan now."
There were about 1,000 people at the reception afterwards, and
someone pointed out that Tony Blair was present, across the room. "I
hadn't seen him at the service, and felt that, as the man had taken
us to war, who walked away from his job two years ago, it was wrong
that he should be there at all at a non-political celebration.
"A while later I looked across and Blair was signing autographs for
people, on the cover of the programmes we were given for the
service. Suddenly a switch went in my head, and before I knew it I
was over there. I said 'Mr Blair...' and he stuck his hand out to
"I told him 'I don't want to shake your hand. It has blood on it –
the blood of my son, the blood of all the other soldiers who died
and of the Iraqi people who also died in the war. You took us to war
on a lie and you are responsible for all those deaths in Iraq. One
day it will come back on you and you'll have to pay for what you
did. I don't think you should be here, but I'm going to leave now.'"
As Mr Brierley turned away, Tony Blair was also ushered away. The
bereaved father doesn't regret delivering the dressing down but
wishes it had been in different circumstances. "It just happened the
way it happened, but I don't really think it was an appropriate
place, after such a positive, celebratory service."
Mr Brierley has always argued that, while soldiers know they must go
to war if necessary and might die, they should only be taken into
war for good reason and properly equipped to fight. L/Cpl Shaun
Brierley died in the early days of the war, in a night-time road
accident on the main supply road between the Kuwait border and
Baghdad, and his father says he was one of the British soldiers lost
because of lack of adequate equipment.
"Shaun was a radio operator, and he was involved in the first few
weeks in setting up camps. He was taking two officers to inspect a
new camp when the vehicle overturned and threw him out. At the
inquest, we were told that because of how a thermal imaging detector
was fitted to the wrong light on the vehicle, they would not have
been able to see the debris in the road that made the vehicle roll
Shaun died on Mother's Day in March 2003, and in the early hours of
Monday the knock on the door came. The family were given eight hours
to tell the news to anyone close to them, before Shaun's name would
be released to the press by the Ministry of Defence.
"We had a short time to grasp that our lovely, lively son had gone
before the phone started ringing. He was known as 'the bear' in the
Army, at six-foot and 16 stone. Everyone used to laugh about his 'velcro
stripe' because when he was promoted he'd have the stripe taken away
for some bit of bother he'd got himself into. Then it was given
back, and a bit later he'd maybe get in an argument again. He was
Following Shaun's death and the inquest, Mr Brierley began
campaigning for better equipment for British forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan, amid reports of forces stretched to the limit and poor
and "patched-up" equipment. He also joined the Stop the War
Coalition, and, with families of other armed services personnel lost
in the conflict, fought and failed in a legal battle to challenge
the Government's refusal of a public inquiry into the war's
But now an inquiry is happening. The value of the Chilcot Inquiry,
which was announced in June and is led by former top civil servant
Sir John Chilcot, is likely to lie less in any startling new
disclosures about why the war was fought than in the catharsis of
allowing those affected a chance to air their grievances. It's
thought to be highly unlikely that startling new revelations about
Tony Blair and his advisers will come to light during the hearings,
which will probably last about 18 months.
Peter Brierley and others who lost loved ones in Iraq are to meet
members of the Inquiry panel in Manchester this Friday as part of a
regional tour to listen to the views of families bereaved by the
war. Peter and Christine Brierley hope the conclusions reached will
somehow help to draw a line in the sand. But Mr Brierley isn't too
happy at the brief set out for the Sir John and colleagues.
"All the evidence suggests that Blair and others – Gordon Brown was
Chancellor and must have sanctioned the spending, and the Ministry
of Defence agreed that resources were available – took us to war on
a lie. It's good that the inquiry will look for lessons to be
learned, and that is important. But I think they should actually be
allowed to apportion blame.
"Looking at what's been happening in Aghanistan, things haven't
improved. I believe Tony Blair to be a war criminal. What he did was
a crime against humanity – invading a country, wrecking that
country, losing 179 British lives and wounding many more, and also
killing unknown numbers of Iraqi citizens."
As a man not given to confrontation, does Peter Brierley have any
regrets about his outburst to the former PM?
"No, it made me feel better. I'd do it again, but next time I'd plan
it better – and do it in a different place."
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