Dad of tragic soldier talks of hopes for Chilcot Report

Peter Brierley.
Peter Brierley.

The front room of Peter and Christine Brierley’s house in the Healey area of Batley is packed with family photos.

Many are snapshots of their seven beloved grandchildren but one picture in particular takes pride of place on their mantelpiece and, says 64-year-old Mrs Brierley, “it never moves”.

The neatly framed photo is of the couple’s lost son, Shaun Brierley – one of the 179 Britons killed in the Iraq War.

His father famously refused to shake the hand of Tony Blair after a memorial service in 2009, telling the former prime minister: “It has blood on it.”

And, ahead of today’s publication of Sir John Chilcot’s report into the Iraq conflict, Mr Brierley spoke of his family’s agonising wait to learn the truth about why the country went to war under Mr Blair’s leadership in 2003.

The 65-year-old said: “This has been a long, long time coming so it is really just a sense of relief that it’s going to happen – although there have been so many occasions when we have been this close before and it’s been put back. The wait has been hard – when Chilcot was first announced [in 2009], John Chilcot went round the country talking to bereaved families and I spoke to him in Manchester and he said to me this inquiry will be as full and as frank as it can be.

“He also said it will take a year and it may be that it stretches out to two years and I believed that, so every time it’s been knocked back you just have to wonder why it has been knocked back. It’s been hard waiting and waiting and waiting because so much stuff comes out and you think at times ‘well, I could write that report’.”

Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley was aged just 28 when he was killed in a vehicle accident during the first days of the war.

His father describes him as a “good soldier” who believed he was doing the right thing by going to Iraq to help remove a murderous regime that, led by Saddam Hussein, was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction which posed a direct threat to the UK.

As concerns grew that the public and Parliament had in fact been misled during the build-up to the war, Mr Brierley spent thousands of pounds of his own money between 2005 and 2007 on attempts through the courts to force a public inquiry into its legality.

Those attempts failed after making it all the way to the Law Lords but a similar inquiry, the one that forms the basis of today’s Chilcot Report, was eventually ordered in 2009 by the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

“They, and by they I mean the people in power in this country, didn’t want the inquiry to happen,” said Mr Brierley. “The only reason it was held was public pressure and public opinion. We [the bereaved families] knew an inquiry was the only way we were going to get some answers so that’s why we have kept going and going and going.

“It’s not just about the 179 Britons that died, it’s about a country [Iraq] that’s been destroyed.” Referring to the truck bombing in Baghdad that killed more than 150 people on Sunday, Mr Brierley added: “You only have to look at what happened there this weekend to know that.” Whatever the findings of today’s report, one thing is certain – they will not bring back Shaun Brierley, the man his parents still miss every day.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Mr Brierley. “When Shaun used to come home on leave, he would sometimes just turn up and knock on our window.

“Even now, 13 years later, one of our neighbours might be popping round and do that and there’s a split second where you think ‘oh, that’s Shaun’ and then you realise it can’t be.

“We miss him every single day and we will forever.”