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Lords vote to undertake limited Chinook enquiry

The House of Lords, in an historic step, has voted to hold an independent inquiry into the RAF's verdict of gross negligence against two pilots of Chinook ZD576 which crashed in Scotland in 1994.

If the committee decides that there is doubt over the cause of the accident, it may insist that the verdict against the pilots is overturned.

The accident on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994 killed four crew and 25 senior police and intelligence officers.

Computer Weekly has highlighted problems with the Chinook's computer-controlled full authority digital engine control (Fadec) system, and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has found that problems with the system could have contributed to the crash on the Mull of Kintyre.

The decision to set up the committee is an unprecedented move, the Lords heard on Monday. It affirms the ability of the House of Lords to question the verdict of an RAF Board of Inquiry. A new select committee is likely to be formed under a law lord shortly, and may hold hearings until the end of this year.

In the vote 106 peers opposed forming a committee, some arguing that the Lords should not question the finding of RAF air marshals. But 132 peers voted for a select committee, including the former prime minister Baroness Thatcher, and former attorney general Lord Mayhew.

The committee will have a narrowed terms of reference. To win his motion for a select committee, Lord Chalfont had to alter its wording. Instead of investigating all the circumstances surrounding the crash the committee will limit its review to the RAF's justification for blaming the pilots.

This means that misleading statements and answers to Parliamentary questions by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) may not be included in the review.

The Public Accounts Committee had found that the MoD misled Parliament when giving assurances on the safety of the Chinook's Fadec.

In the Lords debate, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, a defence minister, said the government did not approve of a select committee. But she said the government did not oppose its formation on the basis of the narrowed terms of reference.

With Computer Weekly, Channel Four News and Campaign Support, which represents the families of the Chinook pilots, Chalfont has fought for years for a new independent review of what the Public Accounts Committee called a "serious miscarriage of justice".

Tony Collins

tony.collins@rbi.co.uk .

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