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Jul 9 2003


By Geoffrey Lakeman


THE father of the youngest soldier to die in Iraq last night angrily demanded answers from Tony Blair for sending his son to war on a false pretence.

Rob Kelly, 54, whose 18-year-old paratrooper son Andrew died in a shooting accident in Basra, said: "If Tony Blair's teenage son had been in the Army he would never have taken this country to war."

As the prime minister defiantly told a Commons committee he had been justified in going to war, Mr Kelly said: "Initially, I agreed with the Government and Tony Blair.

"Like everyone else I had to trust the information we were being given and the reasons for going to war. But now I am asking 'What was it for?' and 'What did my son die for?'

"I feel my son has been taken away by bad decision-making and the credibility of our country is at stake because of our prime minister."

Mr Kelly, who spent 24 years in the Royal Navy and served on HMS Warspite during the Falklands war, added: "The Falklands was justified because another country had invaded our sovereignty.

TRAGIC: Private Andrew Kelly

"It is ironic that we never, ever declared war on the Argentinians, it was only ever called a conflict. Maggie Thatcher got a lot of stick but at least that war was justified, even if they didn't call it one.

"Here we have a full-blown war in Iraq - it certainly isn't justified."

Mr Kelly received his son's last letter on May 6, posted in Iraq on April 25. Half-an-hour later a phone call to his home in Saltash, Cornwall, informed him Andrew was dead.

He said: "I was devastated. And now I want answers because none of it makes sense."

Andrew was too young to be sent to Iraq when the conflict began.

The private had to wait at Colchester barracks until his 18th birthday on March 9 before he was allowed to join his comrades in 1st Platoon, A Company, 3 Para.

Seven weeks later he was dead. Mr Kelly added: "In my last 25-minute phone chat with Andrew I told him I was very proud of him.

"He was very excited of course, but I told him the time would come when he would be very scared - and that if he wasn't there would be something wrong with him.

"Soldiers are not politicians. They go where they are told and do what they are told. I just told my son to do his duty and warned him he would come back a changed man. I didn't realise he'd never come back.

"I spoke to senior officers at Brize Norton when his body was flown home. They said Andrew and his platoon had been on late-night patrol.

"They had been shot at the night before and their nerves must have been on edge. Andrew must have been tired and tense and cleaning his gun but I don't know why there should still have been ammo in the weapon.

"It should have been cleared before they entered the barracks. He was shot in the groin. They fought for 45 minutes to try and save him."

Mr Kelly, now a restaurateur, then produced his son's final letter. It was the first time anyone outside the family had read it.

It said: "Dear Dad, How are you? I'm doing OK in my first operation and it's mega. I've had loads of action, from storming bridges, taking artillery fire and having AKs fired at me. I love it!

"There's sand everywhere. I never want to go to the beach again. I can't wait to come home and have a cool pint - or 10!"

Andrew, who lived with his mother Helen, stepfather and brother Ross, 10, near Tavistock on Dartmoor, joined the Army when he was 16.

His family had a proud record in the forces. Andrew's grandfather served in the Second World War.

Mr Kelly said: "His ambition was to be a red beret and he was. He was proud of the paras' history and tradition."

His mother revealed Andrew told her in a last phone call: "Don't worry Mum, paras always go to heaven." But his father said that was an edited version. "This is what Andrew would really have said," Mr Kelly added, pointing to the P.S. in his final letter: "Paratroopers do not die. They go to hell and regroup!"

Andrew was buried with full military honours in May at Torpoint, near his father's home.

Commanding officer Lt Col Matthew Lowe told mourners: "The loss of Pte Kelly is especially tragic. He was young man full of energy and life with a long career ahead of him."

Last night his father said: "Andrew wanted to join the SAS. Senior officers I met said he would have undoubtedly done that. He was the right calibre."

Saving his last words for Tony Blair, Mr Kelly added: "He appears on TV, so sincere, so caring, so condescending, that's his image. But if his 19-year-old son had been in the Army he would never have taken this country to war."


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