UK

Armed forces' anger over NoW phone-hacking claims

Rose Gentle
Image caption Bereaved mother Rose Gentle said the latest allegations were "like a living nightmare"

Relatives have voiced anger at claims the News of the World may have hacked the phones of families of UK soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rose Gentle, whose son Fusilier Gordon Gentle died in Iraq in 2004, said it would be "pretty disgusting" if true.

Jim Gill, stepfather of 2nd Lt Richard Shearer, who was killed in Iraq in 2005, said it was "very distressing".

The head of the armed forces, General Sir David Richards, said he would be "appalled" if the claims were proved.

'Grief and suffering'

The paper's owner, News International, said it would be "horrified" if the reports turned out to be true.

Mrs Gentle said: "It's like a living nightmare, just waiting for a knock at the door again to be told some bad news."

Asked about plans for an inquiry, backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, she said: "Happy with the inquiry but it has to start now, and if it's true that they've done it, it has to go further."

Steven Heffer, of Collyer Bristow Solicitors, acting for Mrs Gentle, said: "It is imperative that the families get to the bottom of this issue very quickly as any delay only adds to their grief and suffering. I am hoping the police will deal with their requests for information quickly and sympathetically."

Mr Gill, whose stepson, of the 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in July 2005, said his family had suspicions that their phone was being hacked but they had not been contacted by police.

"It is very distressing. The terrible thing is that we're not surprised by it," he said.

"It is distressing for all the people who have been hacked, especially the people who are going through grief. We thought the phones may be being listened to but we did not think it was the press."

'Completely underhand'

Hazel Hunt's son, 21-year-old Pte Richard Hunt, of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, was the 200th member of the British forces to be killed in the Afghan campaign.

He was caught in an explosion while on patrol in August 2009 and died at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham after being flown back to the UK.

Mrs Hunt said: "It's bad enough as it is having lost our sons, but to know that somebody would want to hack in and try and get what I can only assume would be some sort of angle on the story is disgusting.

"You should approach people directly or not at all, and to do anything such as they've been accused of is completely underhand."

MPH Solicitors, whose clients include Samantha Roberts, widow of Sgt Steven Roberts, the first British soldier killed in combat in Iraq in 2003, called for clarification over the claims.

Solicitor Geraldine McCool, who has represented Mrs Roberts, said: "I sincerely hope that any future revelations do not involve our clients and that full disclosure of the extent of this diabolical practice is now made."

'Beyond belief'

Gen Richards said: "First of all we don't want to get ahead of ourselves because there's a police investigation ongoing, and we need to see the results of that. But I have to say if these actions are proved to be verified, I'm appalled, I find it quite disgusting."

The former head of the Army, Lord Richard Dannatt, said he thought the allegations were "appalling".

"It's really touching the sensitivity of families who have been through a tremendous amount to find that what they thought was a closed issue after the death - the knock on the door, the repatriation and inquest - then suddenly it gets opened again in this horrible way," he said.

Douglas Young, executive chairman of the British Armed Forces Federation, said his organisation was "horrified" at the allegations which were "almost beyond belief".

The Royal British Legion has dropped the News of the World as its campaigning partner and suspended all links with the newspaper.

A spokesman said: "We can't with any conscience campaign alongside News of the World on behalf of armed forces families while it stands accused of preying on these same families in the lowest depths of their misery. The hacking allegations have shocked us to the core."

Michele Price, a Royal British Legion lawyer who works with bereaved families, said: "The legion acts as their voice and their champion. I feel that my families would expect inhuman behaviour on a remote battlefield but not at the hands of Fleet Street."

'Outrageous breach'

Mrs Gentle said she agreed with the charity's decision.

"The Royal British Legion support a lot of the armed forces, they support their families. I quite agree with everything they're doing because they know the hurt and the stress that the families will be going through just now," she said.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said intrusion into the private lives of bereaved families would be an "outrageous breach of trust" if the claims proved to be true.

"Our armed forces and their families rightly deserve the respect and support of the nation particularly when their loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice," he said.

A spokesman for the News of the World's publisher, News International, said: "News International's record as a friend of the armed services and of our servicemen and servicewomen is impeccable.

"Our titles have campaigned in support of the military over many years and will continue to do so. If these allegations are true we are absolutely appalled and horrified. We will be contacting the MoD immediately to try and verify the situation."

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