Gordon Brown 'mortified' by condolence letter errors

GORDON Brown yesterday apologised to a grieving mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, blaming his handwriting for errors in a letter of condolence.

The Prime Minister was said to have been "mortified" when told of Jacqui Janes' distress over the handwritten message, immediately arranging a telephone call to say sorry.

She accused Mr Brown of being "disrespectful" as the message began "Dear Mrs James" and appeared to contain other spelling errors and a visible correction to her son Jamie's name.

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The 20-year-old Grenadier Guardsman was killed by an explosion on 5 October.

Mr Brown, who writes personal letters to all bereaved families, said he had not intended to cause any offence and took his responsibility to them very seriously. And he extended his apology to all of those whose relatives in the armed forces had been killed "if my handwriting is difficult to read".

The Prime Minister's writing has often come under scrutiny, with eyesight problems caused by a rugby accident in his youth blamed by some for the occasionally near-illegible script.

In a statement, Mr Brown said: "Every time I write a letter to mothers and fathers and partners who have suffered bereavement to express my sincere condolences, it is a moment of personal sadness to me.

"I send a handwritten letter to every family and I often write to more than one member of the family. I have telephoned Jacqui Janes to apologise for any unintended mistake in the letter."

He added: "To all other families whom I have written to, I can only apologise if my handwriting is difficult to read. I have at all times acted in good faith."

Mrs Janes, 47, told the Sun newspaper the Prime Minister "couldn't even be bothered to get our family name right".

"That made me so angry. Then I saw he had scribbled out a mistake in Jamie's name. The least I would expect from Gordon Brown is to get his name right.

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"The letter was scrawled so quickly I could hardly read it. It's just disrespectful."

Mr Brown also referred to the dead serviceman as "James" when he listed, at Prime Minister's Questions last month, the 37 members of the armed forces killed in Afghanistan during MPs' summer recess. The slip was corrected in Hansard, the official record of proceedings.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said it was "only human occasionally to stumble on these things".

Downing Street said it expected Mr Brown to continue writing the letters by hand, but refused to discuss the process for the writing and checking of the messages.

"Some people's handwriting is easier to read than others. Everyone acknowledges that the Prime Minister's handwriting is of a particular style," the spokesman said.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said that, although Mr Brown's handwriting was "not great", people should understand the row was orchestrated by the Sun, a paper actively campaigning against Labour.

Mistakes in Brown's letter

1. Mr Brown spelt the surname of the soldier incorrectly, referring to his mother as Mrs James rather than Mrs Janes.

2. He appeared to misspell the word "greatest" as "greatst".

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3. The word "your" appeared to be written as "you" when he was attempting to refer to "you and your family".

4 . The word "condolences" was also missing an e, spelt as "condolencs".

5 . The name Jamie seemed to have the "e" half scribbled out.

6 . The word "colleagues" was written as "colleagus".

7. The word "contribution" was written as "contribusion".