St Boswells couple gives up quest for truth about son's assassination

A BORDERS couple whose journalist son was assassinated in Iraq three years ago admitted this week they will never know who killed him and why, writes Andrew Keddie.

Since 24-year-old Richard Wild was gunned down in a busy street in central Baghdad on July 5, 2003, his parents Robin and Daphne from St Boswells have been untiring in their attempts to uncover the truth about the tragedy.

They have bombarded the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with letters, emails and telephone calls, made personal pleas to former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and have visited Whitehall, without an appointment, at least four times.

But their quest for an explanation has ended in frustration and now they have decided to call it a day.

"It is time for us to move on and get on with our lives, for the sake not only of ourselves, but the rest of our wonderful family," said Daphne Wild.

"It is certainly not a case of Robin and I achieving closure on the death of our son – that can never happen – but we have decided not to pursue these issues any further."

Robin Wild agreed: "We have been up so many blind alleys with our way blocked by misinformation and obfuscation and it has taken three years to get absolutely nowhere."

What the Wilds have gratefully received, however, are apologies from the FCO for its shortcomings in the wake of Richard's murder.

These include an admission that the FCO gave the Wilds an erroneous account of the circumstances of Richard's death, claiming he had been mistaken for an American soldier and shot by an unknown assailant who was part of an angry mob.

The Wilds, heartbroken at their loss, had accepted that explanation until, three months later, Robin was contacted by journalist Michael Burke who had worked with Richard in Baghdad.

Mr Burke explained he and a local cameraman were on the scene shortly after the shooting outside the city's Natural History Museum and had gone to the British Office to report the killing, but were told it was any army matter and were unable to even get through the door.

Mr Burke said he had spoken to eyewitnesses who described how an Iraqi man, smartly dressed in white shirt and chinos, had been waiting for some time in a car outside the museum. When Richard emerged, the man pulled out a small pistol, shot Richard in the head, walked hurredly back to his car and drove off.

Given the fact Richard had already filed news stories which were "off message" from the positive spin of the occupying US/UK coalition, Robin and Daphne Wild had to face up to the possibility that not only was their son the victim of a contract killing, but it may have been carried out by a hit man acting on behalf of coalition forces.

Before leaving for Iraq, Richard had worked on a Channel 4 documentary which featured evidence of atrocities by US soldiers against Iraqi civilians even although the conflict was officially over.

The Wilds' demand for answers went into overdrive over the next two years when they learned from Mr Burke that two of his cameraman colleagues had "disappeared without trace" in September, 2003, and Richard's laptop, which may have contained photographs of Iraq atrocities, was stolen when his sister's flat in Aberdeen was broken into. Although cash and jewellery was lying around, nothing else was taken.

But despite their protracted dialogue with the FCO, the Wilds have drawn a blank.

In February this year, Mr Wild wrote again to Mr Straw who had claimed in November, 2003, that no investigation into the murder had taken place because, at the time, "Baghdad was an extremely dangerous place". Mr Wild wanted to know why Mr Straw had, in 2005, told BBC's Today programme: "I was in Iraq in July just after the war . . . you could move about Baghdad fairly freely."

Claiming it was "ungracious and unkind" of Mr Straw not to have replied to a letter written eight months previously, Mr Wild said it "typified the indifference and lack of care we have received in so many dealings with your department".

Mr Wild put it to Mr Straw that if his son William, who is the same age as Richard was when he died, "were to be murdered in a foreign country and the authorities did absolutely nothing about it . . . you would be unwilling to let the matter rest".

Despite this emotional letter, which demanded answers to several allegations of lack of action, misinformation, obstruction and subsequent obfuscation from the FCO, the Wilds received no reply.

But after copying the letter to Mr Straw's successor Margaret Beckett, the couple were sent, on June 20, a detailed response from Paul Sizeland, the FCO's director of consular service. Mr Sizeland claimed the point about Baghdad being a dangerous place for authorities to undertake an investigation "remains valid", while British diplomatic staff had no legal locus to probe crimes, including murders, in a foreign country.

And he denied a key claim of the Wilds that the FCO commissioned, at the time, a report from Mr Burke which was later collected from his hotel. "The FCO did not commission a report by a journalist on Richard's death, nor have we seen or have any information about such a report."

This, says Mr Wild, contradicts information given to him by a member of FCO staff who has now left the department.

Mr Sizeland stated: "What I cannot promise is that consular staff will ever be able to establish the facts surrounding Richard's death from the Iraqi police. It would not be fair to you...if I were to raise expectations that this was possible."

Mr Wild told TheSouthern this week: "We say black and they say white: having reflected long and hard since we got this belated response, we realise it is a no-win situation for us."

There is the minor consolation of the apologies.

Mr Sizeland wrote: "I would like, once again, to offer my apologies (for mistakes we have made] and particularly regret the way in which they have added to the distress you and your wife have gone through in the past three years."

And the Wilds can glean some satisfaction that their persistence has played a part in the FOC now giving better treatment to the families of those who have died in the Iraq war and its bloody aftermath.

"We are constantly reviewing our procedures to try to improve the service we provide and I hope some of the recent changes . . . will mean other families will not have the same experience," wrote Mr Sizeland.