19/01/2004

Hoon meets with Iraq war widow

Underfire Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is to meet today with an Iraq war widow who has led calls for his resignation.

Last week, Samantha Roberts, the widow of Sergeant Steven Roberts, stepped up the pressure on Mr Hoon after releasing audio tapes made by her husband in which he complained about the lack of proper equipment in place in the run up to hostilities on March 19 last year.

She claimed that Mr Hoon had "blood on his hands" as he was, in her view, ultimately responsible for the supply and conduct of the war.

Mrs Roberts has been interviewed by national broadcasters and newspapers since the released of her husband's tapes. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mrs Roberts claimed that the Defence Secretary's statement to the House last Monday was riddled with "untruths". During that debate, Mr Hoon's opposite number, Nicholas Soames, called on the beleaguered Defence Secretary to resign.

Sergeant Roberts, 33, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment, was shot in the chest by rioters in Basra on March 24. Prior to the incident in which he would lose his life, Sergeant Roberts was ordered to give up his body armour to the infantry, who were deemed more in need of the extra protection.

Before entering Iraq, Sergeant Roberts began an audio diary of his experiences in which he complained that equipment supply had been a "joke".

Three days before his death, he said: "Things we have been told we are going to get, we're not – and it's disheartening because we know we are going to go to war without the correct equipment."

Mr Hoon appears to be losing support in the higher echelon of government as both the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleague Peter Hain pointedly refused to directly dismiss resignation calls over the weekend.

Not only will Mr Hoon be anxiously awaiting the results of a probe into Sergeant Roberts' death, but the publication of the Hutton report on January 28 could also have serious implications for the MoD.

(gmcg)

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