Soldier's dad criticises MoD decision

THE father of a Colchester-based military policeman who was killed in Iraq has criticised the Ministry of Defence for allowing sailors held captive in Iran to sell their stories to the press.

By Annie Davidson

THE father of a Colchester-based military policeman who was killed in Iraq has criticised the Ministry of Defence for allowing sailors held captive in Iran to sell their stories to the press.

Reg Keys spoke as Defence Secretary Des Browne last night revealed that military personnel have been banned from selling their stories to the media until a policy review is completed.

Mr Keys, whose son Thomas was one of six members of the Royal Military Police killed by an Iraqi mob in June 2003, was among many victims' relatives who joined the criticism.

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He spoke out after the 15 captives were given permission to accept payment from the media to tell of their ordeal.

Mr Keys' 20-year-old son died alongside his colleagues when they were confronted by an angry mob in a small police station in al-Majir al-kabir, 120 miles north of Basra.

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It later emerged they had been without satellite phones to summon assistance and a coroner ruled they had been unlawfully killed.

Yesterday Mr Keys said: “When my son died, his colleagues were not allowed to speak to their families about it, let alone the press.

“It seems to me that it is selective. If the story aids the Government in their propaganda against the Iranians, they will allow people to speak, but if it is embarrassing to the Government or the Ministry of Defence, you are not allowed to.

“The Government is using them for spin because it suits their requirements... I find that offensive.”

Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie said it had been a “catastrophic error” to allow the sale of the stories - and insisted he would not have published them.

But last night, Mr Browne said: “I recognise the dilemma that faced the Royal Navy last week.

“Many strong views on this have been expressed but I hope people will understand that this was a very tough call, and that the Navy had a duty to support its people.

“Nevertheless all of us who have been involved over the last few days recognise we have not reached a satisfactory outcome. We must learn from this.

“This morning we announced a review of the regulations governing this area, looking at, among other things, the consistency of the regulations across the services, their clarity and, more broadly, whether the regulations are right for the modern media environment.

“I want to be sure those charged with these difficult decisions have clear guidance for the future.

“Until that time, no further service personnel will be allowed to talk to the media about their experiences in return for payment.”

Not all of the captives took money for telling their stories - including Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carman who said he found the idea “a bit unsavoury”

But he defended his colleagues who had agreed deals.

Suffolk Marine Mark Banks, of Lowestoft, was one of those held captive. It is believed he pulled out of a telephone interview with a national newspaper after misgivings about the direction of the story.

Neither the 24-year-old or his family wanted to comment on the issue last night.

nThe Foreign Office expressed concern last night over Iran's announcement that it has dramatically expanded its nuclear programme.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that his country is now capable of enriching nuclear fuel “on an industrial scale” caused alarm in the West.

He insists the technology is for solely civilian purposes but the US and other western nations fear it is the first step towards developing nuclear weapons.

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