Defence minister in denial
chinook crash: Computer Weekly reporters assess the reaction to the PAC report

The defence minister John Spellar may have inadvertently misled TV viewers when he dismissed calls to overturn the negligence verdict on the pilots in the notorious helicopter crash of Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre.

On Channel 4 News Spellar, who was briefed by his officials, sought to undermine last week's Public Accounts Committee report on the Chinook Mk2's software and its possible role in the crash, by citing a 1998 study by the Commons Defence Select Committee.

Other Ministry of Defence (MoD) statements disparaged as "superficial" the Public Accounts Committee investigation, and referred instead to the defence committee's report on the lessons learned from the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre.

But the MoD, in its statements, failed to make clear that the Defence Select Committee was not allowed to question the decision of the two air marshals who found the two pilots of Chinook ZD576 grossly negligent. Instead the Defence Select Committee was charged with investigating the "lessons" from the Mull of Kintyre crash.

The preface to the Defence Select Committee's report says in bold type that "our inquiry and this report seeks neither to challenge nor endorse the findings of previous inquiries into the crash".

Interviewed by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, Spellar said, "What I do find so interesting is that you lay such great store by the Public Accounts Committee but you totally ignore the Defence Select Committee after all this is the Defence Select Committee that is actually charged by the House of Common to look at defence matters."

Crispin Blunt, a defence committee member, said, "For the MoD to rely on the 1998 Defence Select Committee report is extremely shabby. The committee never set out to challenge or endorse previous inquiries into the crash. For the MoD to try and set up one Parliamentary committee against another is disgraceful. It merely underlines the fundamental weakness of its position."

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This was first published in December 2000


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