‘Ben should not have been fighting in Iraq’ – heartache for family after Chilcot report

Ben Nowak at his sister Katie's wedding in September 2003, with their sister Lucie on the left
Ben Nowak at his sister Katie's wedding in September 2003, with their sister Lucie on the left
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MY brother should not have been fighting in Iraq.

That is the damning verdict of Lucie Nowak – the sister of the late Corporal Ben Nowak – who is now having to deal with the fallout from the Chilcot report which highlighted that the Iraq invasion of 2003 did not need to happen.

Now she is calling for Tony Blair, the then prime minister who committed to a war that saw the deaths of 179 military personnel, to go on trial and answer affected families’ probing questions.

Cpl Nowak, who grew up in Gosport and Fareham, died at the age of 27 along with three of his colleagues when a bomb, attached to a jetty, exploded near their boat on the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra city on November 12, 2006.

The much-delayed report, released yesterday, saw Iraq Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot say that the war ‘went badly wrong, with consequences to this day’.

He made no judgment on whether military action was legal.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair

But he found that then attorney general Lord Goldsmith’s decision that there was a legal basis for UK involvement in the US-led invasion was taken in a way which was ‘far from satisfactory’. He said the case for war was presented with ‘a certainty which was not justified’.

And he said it was based on ‘flawed’ intelligence about the country’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which was not challenged as it should have been.

Lucie, who hails from Fareham and now runs a hair salon in Chichester that is named after her brother, watched the statement being read out.

She said: ‘It’s difficult for families.

‘People are always going to think they should not have been there. At the end of the day, they do sign their life up for Queen and country.

‘But bearing in mind what’s come out, there were other options. There was no threat at that point (in time).

‘They had other options before invasion and that’s a bit of a gut-wrencher for me, especially as Ben had volunteered to go there.

‘He had already been there once and said he would go again which he didn’t need to do. He volunteered for something he did not need to do. It’s frustrating.’

Other local servicemen and women paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war.

They included Private Eleanor Dlugosz, 19, from Swanmore, who died in a bomb blast in 2007, and Acting Lance Corporal Steven Jones, 25, of Fareham, who died when his aircraft was shot down in 2005.

Lucie said troops were sent out woefully under-equipped and this was highlighted in the Chilcot report.

The 33-year-old said: ‘Ben should not have been there.

‘We did not have the resources for two invasions (Afghanistan and Iraq) – that’s a fact. Ben died because they did not have the right equipment on the boat he was on. Then I read that there weren’t the resources for two invasions and that winds me up.

‘The guys on the boat were not provided with the stuff they needed. If they had had a device on that boat, the bomb would never have gone off.’

Lucie, who said she still cries almost every day about the tragedy, said she and other grieving families would now be turning their attention to Blair – and there were still many unanswered questions. She said: ‘I don’t think Tony Blair should be able to just read this report and be happy ever after.

‘Some 179 servicemen and women died and thousands of Iraqis died for no reason.

‘I feel like we haven’t heard enough from Tony Blair.

‘I feel like he’s been going around, keeping a low profile and giving evidence here and there. If he was to go on some sort of trial we would be able to hear more form him.

‘My family and I still have questions. We asked them at the coroner’s hearing and they could not be answered.

‘We would put those questions to Tony Blair about why they did not have enough equipment.

‘People were dying because they were not wearing the right head gear. These are easy problems to overcome.

‘There’s a lot of things me and my family would ask. Maybe we should put Tony Blair in a room with all the families and see what happens.’

But Lucie said she and her family could not be consumed with anger.

She explained: ‘It’s 10 years this November.

‘For years my family and I were angry that he should not have been there.

‘I still cry nearly every day.

‘I was so angry. But for your own sanity you have to say his life was not wasted.

‘I see him as a hero now. But it has taken me years to get to that point.’

Mike Hancock, the long-serving Portsmouth South Lib Dem MP, who voted against the invasion, said families like the Nowaks needed time to digest the outcome of the report.

But he said: ‘Something should be done to try and bring Blair to book on this matter. But I don’t believe it will happen. I don’t believe the systems are in place.

‘The International Criminal Court will only investigate crimes in a combat situation and not decisions leading up to it.

‘I think that needs to be reviewed but we are some way off that point.’

He added: ‘I still believe, whether you like it or not, that parliament, the cabinet and the country were hopelessly misled by Blair’s insistence that he was on Bush’s side come whatever.’