Family of South Yorkshire soldier killed in Afghanistan 'disgusted' by memorial snub

Private Gavin Elliott
Private Gavin Elliott
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The family of a South Yorkshire soldier killed in Afghanistan have spoken of their 'disgust' at not being invited to the unveiling of a new memorial.

Private Gavin Elliott, of Woodsetts, Rotherham, was just 19 when he was shot dead while on patrol in the Helmand province in 2009.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial was unveiled in London on Thursday to honour Britons who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Gulf - including the 682 who like Gavin made the ultimate sacrifice in those conflicts.

But Gavin's family were among hundreds of grieving relatives who missed out on the chance to be there, after just 250 tickets were reserved for bereaved families.

Gavin's sister Becky Elliott said her mum Jayne was never even invited to apply for a ticket and had only learned about the ceremony via Facebook once it was too late to do so.

"It's all very well having the important people there, like politicians, but those it means the most to are the grieving families of those who died," said the 28-year-old, of Rotherham.

Gavin with his mum Jayne and siblings Becky and Joshua

Gavin with his mum Jayne and siblings Becky and Joshua

"It would have meant a hell of a lot to be there. For us and so many other families not to even be invited to apply for a ticket is an insult. It's disgusting.

"It feels like they don't care about the brave soldiers who gave their lives, and their families who are still paying the price. To me it's just another exercise to make them look good."

Becky's hurt was compounded by shots of empty seats at the occasion, which she said so many families would have loved to fill.

Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Hill, who commanded B Company of the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, in which Gavin served, tweeted a photo of the vacant pews accompanied by the hashtag #dishonourable.

The Queen unveils the Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial (Lauren Hurley/PA Wire)

The Queen unveils the Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial (Lauren Hurley/PA Wire)

He later tweeted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and prime minister Theresa May, saying 'Not to invite bereaved families was STUPID'.

Becky said: "The fact there were so many empty seats meant they could have made that little bit of effort (to invite us). They know who we are and where we live, so it wouldn't have been hard to send a letter."

The Queen, Ms May and defence secretary Michael Fallon were among more than 2,000 people present at the unveiling of the memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

The prime minister said the monument honoured the 'extraordinary courage and dedication' of the hundreds of thousands of military and civilian personnel who had put their lives on the line to secure greater peace and stability in the region.

Empty seats at the memorial unveiling (Stewart Hill)

Empty seats at the memorial unveiling (Stewart Hill)

A spokesman for the MoD said the memorial reflected the contribution of all those who supported the UK's efforts in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq between 1990 and 2015, including civilians who delivered aid and improved healthcare and education.

"We ensured all groups were represented, including bereaved families, which is why we asked charities and groups specifically linked to them to suggest attendees and granted all those applications," he added.

He pointed out there were already monuments elsewhere dedicated solely to the fallen from those conflicts.

But he said more than half those who attended Thursday's unveiling were current or former members of the armed forces, and 10 per cent of tickets for the event had been allocated for bereaved families.

Gavin, who was just 19 when he died, was described as a 'brilliant' soldier

Gavin, who was just 19 when he died, was described as a 'brilliant' soldier