Tony Blair’s presence at the unveiling of a memorial to the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan was akin to “walking on the graves” of the troops, army widow and ex-DUP MLA Brenda Hale has said.
The former prime minister was invited to attend Thursday’s service in London where the Queen led the nation in praising those who either fought in the Middle East campaigns or carried out humanitarian work.
Last year the Iraq War inquiry found that Mr Blair had overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and then sent ill-prepared troops into battle. Chairman Sir John Chilcot rejected the assertion that the 2003 invasion was a “last resort,” action – and found there was no “imminent threat”.
Mr Blair has apologised for any mistakes made at the time but not the decision to go to war.
Mrs Hale’s husband Captain Mark Hale was killed in August 2009 while helping injured colleagues in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
“It feels like Tony Blair is walking on our dead soldiers’ graves, because he brought us into that war in Iraq and Afghanistan on the premise of weapons of mass destruction that clearly weren’t there,” Mrs Hale said.
“I would have much rather have seen a representative of a bereaved family taking his seat,” she added.
The Queen was joined at a military drumhead ceremony on Horse Guards Parade by 2,500 guests. Afterwards, the Queen unveiled the memorial – created by sculptor Paul Day – at a separate smaller ceremony at Victoria Embankment Gardens.
Mrs Hale said the MOD had caused “pain and anguish” to bereaved families “left off the invite list to make way for politicians and civil servants.”
Mrs Hale said the fact that some families were invited while others were not created an impression that the MOD was “grading” each loss and deciding that some families were more worthy of recognition than others.
“My daughters and I were one of the many families that were not deemed worthy of an invite to the unveiling,” she said.
“My husband was the longest serving soldier to be killed in Afghanistan while he was retrieving one of his soldiers injured in the first IED explosion. He walked into a bomb, doing what his country asked of him, with honour and courage.”
Mrs Hale had been an MLA for Lagan Valley since 2011 but lost her seat at last week’s assembly election.
She said it was regrettable that all of those were invited – including some seriously wounded servicemen from Northern Ireland – had to bear all of the travel costs.
“The MOD asked regimental associations and charities to foot the bill of travel and hotels. This is not the responsibility of the regimental associations or the charities. They did not send our troops to war, and yet they continually pick up the tab for service families. When is the Government going to accept responsibility?”
Mrs Hale added: “I pay quiet tribute to those who never made it home, to those whose minds are still in hell, to those who are living with life-changing injuries.
“All we ask, as a community, is that the Government truly remembers their bravery and sacrifice and remembers that we will live these wars until we join our loved ones in the grave.
“And for those who are left behind, we need a government that will protect our service men and women from prosecution, from those whose only agenda is to harm those that serve us.”