Coalition to review Chinook crash findings

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Liam Fox, Defence Secretary, has asked the MoD to look at ways of doing an independent review into the decision to blame the pilots for the crash of a Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994.

He said the government would honour the promise it made, while in opposition, to review the crash findings.

The Government made the renewed commitment in the House of Commons today, in response to a question by Liberal Democrat Sir Menzies Campbell, who has campaigned for more than 12 years to clear the names of Flight Lieutenants Rick Cook and Jonathan Tapper, the pilots of Chinook ZD576.

The two pilots, two other crewmen, and twenty-five senior policeman and Northern Ireland intelligence officers were killed when ZD576 crashed into the Mull on 2 June 1994.

Nobody knows the cause of the crash and RAF rules at the time of the crash said that deceased aircrew could only be found negligent in cases where there was "absolutely no doubt whatsoever".

There are many theories about the cause of the crash but campaigners say that none, including pilot error, meet the test of "absolutely no doubt whatsoever".

In the view of the families of the pilots, and many campaigners, the RAF's finding of gross negligence against the two pilots represents a gross miscarriage of justice.

Today in the Commons Sir Menzies Campbell said:

"It is forcibly argued by many people that the evidence available failed to meet the very high standard necessary before such a finding could be made under the Royal Air Force's regulations."

He said that external inquiries found that "the evidence didn't justify the verdict, and that is why I urge the Defence Secretary today to consider by whatever means is appropriate a review of that decision".

Liam Fox said: "In opposition we said there would be an independent review of the evidence and I can confirm that the Ministry of Defence is already looking at the best way to undertake that.

"We will certainly live up to the promise we made in opposition."

But will Liam Fox appoint a judge to review crash findings?

When in opposition, the Tory leader David Cameron said in writing that he would appoint a judge to review the findings against the pilots.

Today Fox made no mention today of appointing a judge, but it's difficult to see how the MoD can avoid appointing one, given the Tory's pre-election commitment.

Aviation experts and many in the RAF say the Chinook Mk2 was not airworthy when it came into service in the months before the crash on the Mull. The Chinook's safety-critical "Fadec" fuel control software was branded "dangerous" within the MoD - but the helicopter was allowed to fly without a revision of the software.

After the crash, the software was modified substantially - and the processor, which had a design flaw, was also changed.

Mike Tapper, the father of one of the pilots told me today he is delighted that the Conservatives have re-affirmed their commitment to a review of the crash findings.

He commended Sir Menzies Campbell and Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, a former defence minister, who has asked numerous parliamentary questions on the crash, and has led the Mull of Kintyre parliamentary group as part of his campaign to restore for the pilots' reputations.

Tapper also commended Labour peer Martin O'Neill who has worked for many years, mostly behind the scenes, to secure a new inquiry into the crash findings.  

Some campaigners remain concerned because:

- the MoD is looking at ways of holding an independent inquiry - but the MoD has a special interest in not having an independent inquiry. It has been accused within its own ranks of putting an unsafe helicopter into service - against expert internal advice - and then, after a major fatal crash, supporting the RAF's hierarchy in blaming the dead pilots. For more than a decade the MoD has resisted all attempts by campaigners to have an independent review of the decision to blame the pilots. Should the MoD now be involved in looking at ways to hold an independent inquiry?

- it's unclear whether the judge, if one is appointed, would have the inquiry's terms of reference determined - or narrowed - by the MoD.

-  it's unclear whether any judge would have access to all relevant documents or only the information deemed relevant by the MoD.

The sensitivity of the findings against the pilots can be seen by attempts this year by five knighted former RAF officers to brief the Conservatives on the crash.


Update (27 May 2010)

Who said what on Chinook - House of Commons 26 May 2010:

Sir Menzies Campbell:

"It concerns the crash of a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994, when all the passengers and all the crew were killed. It was a terrible and tragic event, but with an additional dimension in that the passengers were the civilian and military heads of intelligence in Northern Ireland.

"The consequence of that event was to prejudice very considerably our efforts at a time in the Province before the Good Friday agreement, when things were by no means easy.

"The two pilots - Flight Lieutenant Cook and Flight Lieutenant Tapper - were found to have been guilty of negligence. However, it is forcefully argued by many people that the evidence available failed to meet the very high standard necessary before such a finding could be made, under the Royal Air Force's own regulations.

"It is sometimes thought that to seek to reopen this matter is to imply bad faith on the part of the senior officers of the Royal Air Force who were ultimately responsible for the board of inquiry.

"Let me dissociate myself from that completely and say that I believe that they all acted in good faith. Nevertheless, I believe that an error was made.

"There have been two external inquiries: a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland under Sheriff Sir Stephen Young- now Sheriff Principal Sir Stephen Young - and a special Select Committee of the House of Lords under the chairmanship of Lord Jauncey, a distinguished former Scottish judge. Both inquiries reached the same conclusion - that the evidence did not justify the verdict.

"That is why I urge the Defence Secretary to consider, by whatever means appropriate, a review of that decision. Indeed, I have already written to him in those terms, and I sent him a copy of my letter before I came into the Chamber."

James Arbuthnot (former Conservative defence minister):  Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my pleasure that the Prime Minister himself, before he became Prime Minister, said:

"the Conservatives believe that the matter cannot rest there. Accordingly, we have committed to undertaking a review"?

"Does he agree that such a review has to be independent of the Ministry of Defence for it to carry any weight?

Sir Menzies Campbell:

I agree entirely ...Over the years he and I, along with many others in both Houses, have sought to persuade the previous Government, and indeed the Government before that, to undertake such a review.

"On one occasion we met Prime Minister Blair. I very much hope that this Administration will feel compelled to deal with something that many people believe has, inadvertently, caused an injustice that should be put right. If this Chamber is anything, it is surely a place for the redress of grievance."

Dr Liam Fox (Defence Secretary):

 " [Mr Arbuthnot] is correct to say that in opposition we said there would be an independent review of the evidence, and I can confirm that the Ministry of Defence is already considering the best way to undertake that. We will certainly live up to the promise that we made in opposition.

Sir Menzies Campbell:

"I am grateful to the Defence Secretary for that intervention, and for his undertaking."


One of the worst software project failures in memory? - IT Projects Blog  

Chinook computer was positively dangerous, say newly-disclosed MoD documents - IT Projects Blog

RAF Justice - IT Projects Blog

Chinook Mk2 - we publish new evidence of computer problems - IT Projects Blog 

MoD considers Chinook crash review - BBC

1 Comment

  • One would wish that really Liam Fox would find something more important to do with his time than bitch about a video game. People are dying for real, for God's sake, isn't that kind of a priority?

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