UK leader again under fire over condolence letter

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2009 3:21 PM

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to make fresh apologies to relatives of soldiers slain in Afghanistan, after it emerged Thursday that three bereaved families received belated letters of condolence from the leader _ including one that arrived two years late.

The news adds to Brown's struggle in trying to persuade the British public to support an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan. Last month, the leader became embroiled in a public spat with the mother of a soldier slain in Afghanistan who said he had misspelled her name in a condolence letter.

Simon Lewis, Brown's spokesman, confirmed at least three letters _ all from 2007 _ had been mistakenly delayed. He said other messages to offer commiseration for troop deaths in 2008 and this year also may have arrived late.

Brown's Downing Street office said it had ordered a review after the family of 21-year-old trooper Jack Sadler said a letter showed up last month, although the soldier died in 2007.

Ian Sadler, Jack's father, was irate about the leader's blunder.

"It's not good, is it? Nearly two years later and the PM hasn't apologized, just his aide," he told BBC radio. He said a condolence letter arrived with a note of explanation from a senior official.

"It goes to show what this present administration thinks of our soldiers," Sadler said.

Last month, bereaved mother Jacqui Janes accused the prime minister of not taking necessary care in penning the note.

Janes, whose 20-year-old son Jamie was killed by an explosion, also blamed Brown for failing to supply troops with proper equipment _ a charge Brown denies.

Lewis told reporters that all delayed condolence letters had now been sent, and that a review is under way into why the notes were not dispatched on time.

"I wrote to the relevant families immediately and expressed my condolences," Brown said Thursday. "I can only apologize to those families, and I want to send my heartfelt condolences to them."

Public support in Britain for the war has waned in recent months with a steady increase in casualties _ nearly 100 this year alone. The head of the armed forces warned Thursday that declining support for the mission was a bigger threat to soldiers' morale than the Taliban, but insisted that the deaths were for a justified cause.

"Support for our service men and women is indivisible from support for this mission," Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup said. "This endeavor is important enough to our national security to justify the price our people are paying."