Sunday, June 19, 2005

Mother whose son died in Iraq serves summons on Blair

June 17, 2005

By Michael Evans, Defence Editor

TONY BLAIR has been summonsed by a county court to appear as a witness in a case involving the mother of a soldier killed two days after the war in Iraq began in 2003.

The summons has been sent to Downing Street, after the mother of Sergeant Les Hehir, of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, named the Prime Minister as a witness.

Pat Blackburn, the mother of the 34-year-old soldier who was killed in a helicopter crash south of the Kuwait border on March 21, 2003, is to appear at Weymouth County Court next week charged with non- payment of £15,000 income tax in a case brought by the Inland Revenue. Mrs Blackburn has withheld paying her tax bill in protest over the Iraq war.

She has refused to clear the debt until Mr Blair either discloses the details of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction or resigns.

A spokeswoman for the court confirmed yesterday that a summons had been sent to Downing Street. She declined to reveal whether there had been any response.

She said that any named witness summonsed by a court had to “make an application to the judge not to attend”. Downing Street has refused to make any comment. Mrs Blackburn, from Dorchester, Dorset, said that she had offered Mr Blair £500 to cover his travel expenses and loss of earnings for the day if he turned up for the court hearing. She said: “If Tony Blair can visit Weymouth to campaign before the election he can return to appear in court. I fully expect to be standing in the dock with the Prime Minister in court.”

Mrs Blackburn plans to appear in the Dorset court without legal representation so that she can question Mr Blair directly if he turns up. Sergeant Hehir was one of the first British Service personnel to be killed in Operation Telic, the codename for Britain’s military campaign in Iraq. A total of 88 have now died. He and seven other British troops, all members of 3 Commando Brigade, were killed when a US Marine Corps CH46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait. Four Americans also died.

Sergeant Hehir, who lived in Poole, Dorset, was married with two young sons, Oliver, now aged 7, and William, 5.

Mrs Blackburn, a businesswoman, withheld her income tax payments after writing numerous letters to Mr Blair. She said that in a hand-written reply, Mr Blair told her that he was willing to send her the details of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But the information never materialised.

She said: “Tony Blair has not kept his word. In the meantime, thousands of people are being murdered and our Prime Minister cannot do the honourable thing and resign.” She added: “I don’t want to go to jail over this but I feel this is the only thing I can do to get justice.”

Mrs Blackburn said that she was not for or against wars, and acknowledged that Saddam Hussein was “an odious and despicable person but his personality wasn’t the reason for us going to war”.

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