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Brother of Hadleigh soldier killed in Iraq says she ‘died for no reason’

On the day that the findings of the Iraq Inquiry were made public the brother of one of only four female soldiers killed during the Iraq War has slammed Tony Blair’s Government for sending people to their deaths for ‘no reason.’

It has taken seven years for the findings of the inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot to be revealed in full and on Wednesday (July 6) the full weight of his criticisms came to bear.

Gary Howard
Gary Howard

His report heavily criticised the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and the part played in that decision by then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Many relatives of the 179 British military personnel that lost their lives in the course of the six year occupation of Iraq were there to hear Sir John read out his findings, among them was Gary Howard.

His sister, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, who served with the Army Intelligence Corps, died aged 34 on November 12, 2006 when the boat she was travelling in was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) during a patrol along the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra.

Three others died in the attack and three were seriously injured. At the time she was just the second female soldier to die in Iraq. Two more were to follow.

Gary Howard and his sister Sharron Elliott
Gary Howard and his sister Sharron Elliott

St Sgt Elliott grew up in Hadleigh and attended Hadleigh High School. Together with her four brothers, Gary, Michael, David and Wayne (who also all went on to serve in the British Army) she lived in Canterbury Gardens in the town until joining the Army.

She went on to become the first female aircraft technician in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before transferring to Army Intelligence, starting out her undercover work in Northern Ireland before completing numerous other tours of duty.

Speaking outside the Queen Ilizabeth II Centre in London after Sir John had delivered his report, Mr Howard, said: “We were all agreed. We thought it would be a whitewash and it hasn’t been. We are very pleased with the outcome.

“It shows significant shortfalls in the planning and the execution in the invasion of Iraq.

“To me it shows that they wanted to go to war so they’ve twisted things to make it so they could go to war.

“The British military are professional like no other. They take pride in the fact that they are prepared to go to war for a cause their Government said was right and in this case it wasn’t.

“When we went to war in the Falklands we claimed something back that was taken by force. When we went to Kuwait we went to take something back that was taken by force, this time we were the force taking by force.”

At the inquest into St Sgt Elliott’s death the coroner said the Army had failed to check the bridge in Basra from where the bomb that killed her was detonated and the significance of that finding, added Mr Howard, has now been added to by the Iraq Inquiry judgements.

Mr Howard, 47, who served in the Grenadier Guards and then the Military Police before leaving the Army and starting his own forensics company, said: “People failed to do their job on the day she died.

“The military failed to provide adequate equipment and resources (in Iraq), they failed to provide thought as to what would happen after the downfall (of Saddam Hussein).

“Now we’ve got Sir John Chilcot backing up the fact that they didn’t think about it, they didn’t provide the resources and they even diverted them to Afghanistan.

“They’ve sent people to their deaths for no reason. There’s no reason for it. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Like many others who lost loved ones in the Iraq War, Gary and his family, including his mum Elsie who was unable to travel from her home in South Shields to attend the Chilcot Report, must now fully digest the facts before deciding if they wish to take legal action against Tony Blair.

Mr Howard, who now lives near Oldham, said: “If we see there’s a case for legal action we will refer it to the lawyers for the best advice.”

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