British prime minister Gordon Brown has personally apologised to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan for a letter of condolence he sent her which was littered with errors.
Mr. Brown addressed the mother of 20 year-old Jamie Janes as “Mrs. James” and left some words half-finished in his apparent haste.
It later transpired that he also read Mr. Janes as “Mr. James” when he listed, at Commons question time last month, the 37 members of the armed forces killed in Afghanistan during members of parliament’s summer recess.
Jacqui Janes accused Mr. Brown of disrespecting the memory of her son.
Mr. Brown moved to limit the damage by telephoning Mrs. Janes to assure her he meant no offence.
A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister spent “a great deal of time” writing personal condolence letters and would never knowingly misspell a name.
“He has unwillingly, in writing a letter, caused this offence. Of course he is sorry for that,” the spokesman said.
“As soon as he was told about this he personally contacted the mother to make absolutely clear that he never meant any offence and to underline his deepest sympathy for her, his complete admiration and thanks for the bravery and sacrifice of her son and he said he would do whatever he could to help her at this most difficult of times.”
He said that Mr. Brown was aware he has “somewhat unique” handwriting, but added: “The suggestion that he would have or does write these letters in a way that is anything other than with the dignity of the office he holds is completely inappropriate.”
The prime minister is already facing criticism for failing to bow his head as he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, and four former service chiefs have accused him of not caring about the Armed Forces.
Jacqui Janes said Mr. Brown’s letter was clear evidence of his attitude towards them.
“If he cares that little I don’t know why he bothered to write at all,” she said.
Jamie Janes joined the Grenadier Guards shortly after his 16th birthday and was on his second tour of Afghanistan when he was killed by a Taliban bomb on 5 October.
It is standard for prime ministers to write to the families of the fallen, and Mrs. Janes received Mr. Brown’s letter after others from the Royal family, the Defence Secretary and Jamie’s regiment.
“They were all written from the heart and made me feel Jamie’s death was important to them. Then I got Gordon Brown’s. I only got through the first four lines before I threw it across the room in disgust,” she said.
Mr. Brown wrote “greatst” for greatest, “condolencs” for condolences, “you” instead of your, and “colleagus” for colleagues.
He failed to dot the letter “i”, wrote security as ‘securiity’ and repeated the word “sincere” in two adjacent sentences.
“He said, ‘I know words can offer little comfort’. When the words are written in such a hurry the letter is littered with more than 20 mistakes, they offer no comfort,” Mrs, Janes, 47, from Portslade, West Sussex, said.
“How low a priority was my son that he could send me that disgraceful, hastily-scrawled insult of a letter?
“He finished by asking if there was any way he could help.
“One thing he can do is never, ever, send a letter out like that to another dead soldier’s family. Type it or get someone to check it. And get the name right.”
However, Jenny Green, president of the RAF Widows Association, said Mr. Brown should be applauded for sending such letters.
“I think the poor man is trying to do his absolute best and unfortunately, on this one occasion, he got it wrong and upset people,” she said. “None of our widows have ever complained about his letters before. Ultimately, he meant well and that’s what counts.”