Mother vindicated as war report proves to be not just a whitewash

Evelyn Williams pictured in her garden at Eyemouth with the scroll presented to the family on behalf of HM the Queen commemorating Corporal D E Williams Royal Air Force, who gave his life for Queen and country on 30th January 2005
Evelyn Williams pictured in her garden at Eyemouth with the scroll presented to the family on behalf of HM the Queen commemorating Corporal D E Williams Royal Air Force, who gave his life for Queen and country on 30th January 2005

The mother of an Eyemouth man killed during the Iraq War believes the then prime minister Tony Blair has to ultimately take responsibility for making the decision to go to war.

Evelyn Williams’ son David Williams, a corporal in the Royal Air Force, was one of 10 military personnel to die in January 2005 after the Hercules aircraft they were on board was shot down by insurgents north of Baghdad.

A UK inquest three years later concluded that their deaths were unlawful, and the coroner in charge criticised what he described as “systemic RAF failings”.

One of the findings of Sir John Chilcot’s long-awaited report into the war, finally published last week, was that British military services were not fully prepared for it, a misgiving shared by David’s mother Evelyn.

She told the Berwickshire News: “The report was quite scathing, which I was very surprised about. I thought it would be another whitewash.

“He was quite thorough, and it showed lots of failings.

“Ultimately, Tony Blair made the decision.”

While neither the inquest into David’s death nor the Chilcot inquiry change the outcome, the fact that both identified where things went wrong is of some comfort to Evelyn.

Talking about the publication of the Chilcot Report, she said: “It does help me feel a little bit better.”

The report is the second time that Evelyn and her family have received official confirmation that mistakes were made, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of military personnel, including David.

Sir John concluded that there was “little time to properly prepare three military brigades for deployment in Iraq in 2003 and that the risks were neither “properly identified nor fully exposed”.

At the 2008 inquest into David’s death, coroner David Masters hit out at the Ministry of Defence’s legal action in the High Court to try to prevent coroners using “highly critical language” when conducting inquests into deaths of servicemen in Iraq or Afghanistan.

He promised the families concerned that he would carry out a “full, frank and fearless inquiry”, and that is what he did.

What emerged at the inquest was that it was known that aircraft such as the C130 Hercules that David was in had not been fitted with explosive-suppressant foam (ESF), making them vulnerable if hit by bullets or shrapnel.

Unlike US and Australian military aircraft, Britain’s 45-strong fleet of C130 Hercules aircraft had not be fitted with ESF or a fuel tank inerting system, a safety measure costing £600,000 per craft for a retrospective fit.

Advice as early as 2002 was that all combat aircraft should be fitted with fuel tank inerting systems, but it wasn’t until the Hercules was brought down in Iraq in 2005 that action was taken.

Dumfries-born David, a survival equipment fitter, was brought up in Eyemouth, and when the RAF gifted benches to the families of the 10 servicemen killed aboard the Hercules, his family decided that one should go beside Eyemouth’s High Street war memorial.

Evelyn regularly checks the bench because it has been damaged by vandals in the past.

Although David and his wife and two young sons were living in England at the time of the war because he was based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, he remained a familiar face in the town he grew up in.

David’s RAF colleagues acknowledged his links to the town and donated £932 to Eyemouth RNLI lifeboat station after an RAF charity football match in 2011.

The RAF’s annual survival equipment section five-aside tournament had been running for 25 years before being renamed the Dave Williams Memorial Shield.

Each year, a charity is selected as the beneficiary of the money raised by the tournament, and in 2011 David’s widow Kathryn picked Eyemouth RNLI.

She and their two sons live in Bath, and Evelyn sees them as often as possible. “They are OK. They are coping,” she said.