“WE were only just beginning to get over our grief.”

Those were the words of a Southampton couple who were left outraged after receiving a letter promising them child support payments for their grandson – an astonishing 19 years too late.

David and Rosemary Wickenden applied for the money when they took in grandson Mitchell when he was just eight years old.

But almost two decades later – and tragically 18 months after Mitchell died at the age of 25 – they have finally been told their claim was being processed.

Mitchell and his sister Sadie were brought up by their grandparents in Pat Bear Close, Redbridge, following the breakdown of their parents’ relationship in 1995.

Mitchell went on to join the army, serving in Iraq, before he returned home and sadly took his own life in October 2012.

But a letter from the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) landed on their doorsteps just days ago, leaving the pensioners shocked and upset.

David, 74, demanded an apology and said he had no idea why the CMS were acting now, almost 20 years after the couple gave up on attempts to obtain support from Mitchell’s parents.

He said: “At the time we were told we could not claim off our son Paul because he was out of work. We got some money from their mother but it ended quickly.

“Then we got this letter and I was just amazed. I thought child support ran out at 16? And if he was still alive Mitchell would be 27 so how can something like this happen?”

David added: “We did all the legwork for child support years ago but never got anywhere, so this just shows what a mess they can make of it. It’s pure carelessness and I think we deserve an apology.”

The couple say they spent more than an hour on the phone to the service trying to get answers, but to no avail.

Rosemary, 71, added: “What if a mother whose young child had died had received something like this? We want to make sure this never happens again.”

Last night, after repeated requests from the Daily Echo for an explanation about what had gone wrong, the service issued an apology to the couple.

A spokesman said: “Unfortunately a letter was sent to Mr and Mrs Wickenden in error and we apologise for the obvious distress this has caused. We are urgently investigating how this has happened and will be in touch with the family shortly.”

Mitchell, a former soldier with the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was found hanged at his home in Witts Hill, Midanbury.

An avid Saints fan, he was just 18 when he was sent on a sixmonth tour of duty in Iraq in 2006 and later discharged from the Army on medical grounds.

An inquest last March heard he had become depressed after splitting up with his girlfriend and losing his job at a local removal firm.

It was also heard his experiences in Iraq may have contributed to his suicide.