Labour attacks Sun in row over Gordon Brown misspelling name of dead soldier (2022)

Labour hit back at the Sun today after the paper caused Gordon Brown to apologise to the mother of a dead serviceman who took offence after he sent her a handwritten letter of condolence that misspelled her name.

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

Jacqui Janes, the mother of Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes, who was killed in Afghanistan on 5 October, received the letter days after her son's death. But, according to today's Sun, Janes had only read the first few lines before she "threw it across the room in disgust".

Downing Street said that the prime minister called Janes last night after he learned that she had contacted the newspaper. "He apologised for the letter and the way she feels about the letter," the prime minister's spokesman said.

Brown, who writes a handwritten letter to the relatives of every serviceman killed in action, has notoriously bad handwriting. Some attribute this to his eyesight, which has been poor since a rugby accident in his teenage years left him blind in one eye.

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The prime minister's handwritten letter opened "Dear Mrs James", and continued with a series of further spelling errors and a scribble through the final letter of the name Jamie.

Janes, 47, described the letter as "an insult" to her son, 20, who died in an explosion while on foot patrol in central Helmand province.

"He couldn't even be bothered to get our family name right," she told the Sun. "That made me so angry. Then I saw he had scribbled out a mistake in Jamie's name. The very least I would expect from Gordon Brown is to get his name right.

"The letter was scrawled so quickly I could hardly even read it and some of the words were half-finished. It's just disrespectful."

In a statement issued this afternoon, Brown said: "I take very seriously my responsibility to the bereaved. 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. And I am in awe of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces.

"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.

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"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 seeking to do the right thing. I do not think anyone will believe that I write letters with any intent to cause offence."

Mandelson, the business secretary and one of Brown's closest allies, said it was "unthinkable" that the prime minister would want to show any disrespect to Janes, or to any other bereaved relative.

But he also said that the story had to be understood in the "context" of the fact that the Sun had chosen to "campaign against Gordon Brown and Labour" in the run-up to the general election.

The Sun, which announced during Labour's party conference in September that it would be backing the Tories at the next election, ran its story on the front page today with the headline "Bloody shameful".

Inside an editorial said Brown's "almost illegible" letter was evidence of his "underlying disregard for the military".

Earlier, the prime minister's spokesman said that Brown "was deeply mortified to think that he could possibly have offended members of a family who are bereaved". The spokesman dismissed suggestions that Brown had not spent enough time on the letter.

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"The prime minister takes enormous care and time writing to those who are bereaved through conflict. It's something that he feels very personally and very strongly about. He personally writes to every family to acknowledge the debt owed by the country to those who have died protecting Britain. He would never knowingly misspell or incorrectly address a letter like that."

Downing Street would not discuss Brown's conversation with Janes in detail, or whether Brown's handwritten letters are checked before they are sent out.

But the spokesman indicated that Brown would continue to write such letters by hand. "He believes that's the right thing to do," said the spokesman.

Brown's letter, written in black marker pen – often used by the prime minister because of his poor eyesight – appears to contain four mistakes in the first sentence.

"It is with the greatst of sadness that I write to offer you and you family my personal condolencs on the death of your son, Jamie [which has the e crossed out]," Brown wrote.

The prime minister has form when it comes to misspelling names in sensitive correspondence.

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In April the Tory MP Nadine Dorries made public a letter Brown sent her in the aftermath of the smear emails scandal. He spelt her name "Dorres" and also made mistakes with the words "politcal", "knowlege", "embarassment" and "advizer", prompting suggestions he might be dyslexic.

Janes said the PM finished the letter 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," she said.

"Type it or get someone to check it. And get the name right."

The latest row comes after Brown allegedly angered veterans by failing to bow as he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph yesterday.

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