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Prosecutor accuses MoD of holding back evidence

Tony Collins
The public prosecution officer responsible for investigating the Chinook helicopter crash in Scotland in 1994 has said the Ministry of Defence held back a crucial technical report. This impeded his efforts to set up an independent statutory inquiry into the accident.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the full extent of the difficulties he faced in setting up a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), Iain Henderson, the then Cambeltown procurator fiscal, questioned the ability of the MoD to remain impartial over the cause of the crash.

"The MoD did not want to have an FAI at all," said Henderson, who added that the MoD's repeated "stalling" over the release of the technical report made him believe that it had an "ulterior motive" for the delay. "It was obvious that they were concerned that they could not control the outcome of our inquiry," he said.

The FAI eventually concluded that there was no evidence to support the RAF's finding of gross negligence against the pilots of ZD576. The crash killed all 29 people on board, including 25 senior police and intelligence officers. Since 1997 Computer Weekly has been running a campaign to draw attention to the possibility that the failure of on-board software systems could have been a factor in the crash.

Henderson, who is now retired, believes a technical report by Tony Cable, chief investigator of the crash at the Air Accidents Investigations Branch, was ready in late 1994 - a few months after the crash in June. "I could not have an FAI without the technical report," he said. "There would have been a huge hole in the middle of my investigation."

Cable's report found no evidence of any technical cause for the crash but revealed many uncertainties over the state of equipment damaged by the impact. It said that one of the Chinook Mk2's controversial computerised Fadec engine control systems had been destroyed in a fire after impact.

Although the technical investigation report was dated 5 January 1995, the MoD did not make it available to Henderson until June of that year - and then told him it could not be used as evidence for an FAI without the MoD's clearance.

"Eventually I got a grudging letter from the MoD saying I could lodge the report [in September 1995]. That was after I had asked the Crown Office to take the matter up at a ministerial level," said Henderson.

The delay, said Henderson, made it almost impossible for the families of the deceased pilots to prepare a case for a judicial review within three months of the judgment of the RAF Board of Inquiry in April 1995.

An MoD report to Parliament last year claimed, "[The] pilots' relatives could have sought a judicial review within [the required] three months of the judgement had they wished to do so. They did not."

Henderson described the verdict of gross negligence as "ridiculous". He added that the resistance he met in holding an FAI "does not inspire much confidence in the impartiality of the MoD".

From crash to inquiry
2 June
1994 Chinook ZD576 crashes
November 1994 The preliminary report of the procurator fiscal is ready, but no Fatal Accident Inquiry can be held without the technical findings
January 1995 The MoD technical report is completed
June 1995 The technical report is released to the procurator fiscal, but he is told by the MoD he cannot use it as evidence
August 1995 Procurator fiscal asks the Crown Office to intervene
September 1995 The MoD allows the technical report to be used
January 1996 The Fatal Accident Inquiry convenes

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