Iraq war: Grieving Tamworth family recall loved one's death 20 years on

ITV News Central journalist Barnaby Papadopulos met Leon Spicer's family ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Iraq war

At his parents' home, Leon Spicer is everywhere.

In neat army uniform, in a photo on a side table. Grinning on a muddy field, surrounded by colleagues.

On 100 not-for-use postage stamps, commissioned by Steve McQueen. And on page after page of a well-thumbed photo album.

Pictures and mementoes are all that remain of the 26-year-old, who was killed when a roadside bomb exploded in south-eastern Iraq eighteen years ago.

That conflict began 20 years ago this month, and Leon's mother and brother remember the moment they heard about his death as vividly as when it happened.

Bridie Spicer first heard on the news.

"Three soldiers had been killed," she recalls. Looking at the pictures on television, she assumed they weren't from the Staffordshire regiment in which Leon served.

Later, she was asked to get out of her car. "As soon as he said who he was I thought oh no," she said.

"I said, please don't tell me it's Leon, he said - I'm sorry, but it is."

Leon had been driving in an armoured Snatch land rover near Amarah.

The bomb also killed two other soldiers from his regiment, Second Lieutenant Richard Shearer, 26, and Private Phillip Hewett, 21.

  • Gerard Spicer remembers a 'massive shock'

Leon's brother Gerard, then aged 24, remembers hearing the news on the phone.

He said: "I just couldn't comprehend or understand. I remember just passing the phone to my girlfriend at the time because I just couldn't.

"It was such a shock. A massive shock"

What was the Iraq war?

The Iraq War began on 20 March 2003, when a US-led coalition invaded the country with the aim of removing its then-leader, Saddam Hussein, and disarming the country with alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The coalition toppled the Iraqi leader quickly, but the country plunged into a bitter sectarian conflict.

British troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011. The war was incredibly controversial at the time.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London the month before it began in some of the biggest protests the country had ever seen.

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

Bridie, and her husband, now boast several grandchildren, photos of whom adorn the walls next to those of Leon.

In the immediate aftermath of his death, she says, life became a roundabout of media interviews and military events.

It was only when things slowed down that reality set in.

"We went off for a year," she said, "And then we came back again because you have to.

"We had two other children we had to think about. You have to think of the living.

"The Lord will look after the dead."

Gerard says his brother is still 'uncle Leon' to his children - despite them never having met.

At the top of his stairs is the sheet of stamps, commissioned by Steve McQueen, to commemorate the dead. They pass it every day.

"We openly talk about it with the children," he said. "They're interested in what their uncle was like."

Tony Blair with the then US President, George Bush Credit: PA

In 2016 the Chilcot Inquiry into the conflict was published.

The report found, in 2003, Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to British interests.

It also found that intelligence over WMD had been flawed and that efforts to find a diplomatic solution had not been exhausted.

Some families of soldiers who died in Iraq have even called for the British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, to be prosecuted.

But the Spicer family harbours little resentment.

"It happened," says Bridie. "Life goes on. Live your life, live your life fully, and the person you've lost will live on."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…