In a terse letter two weeks ago to lawyers acting for the families, a senior government official, writing on behalf of defence secretary Geoffrey Hoon, also attacked the idea of a judicial review.
The Government's irritation over proposals by the families to apply for a judicial review comes as a long-running campaign to clear the names of the pilots, supported by Computer Weekly, intensifies. The House of Lords is expected to vote next week on whether to accept a Lords committee report which said the RAF was wrong to find the pilots of ZD576 grossly negligent.
The Lords' committee had accepted evidence that, at the time of the crash, there were "still unresolved problems" with new Fadec safety-critical software which automated the control of fuel to the helicopter's two jet engines. Technical faults such as an engine surge caused by a Fadec problem "could have had a serious effect upon the crew's ability to control the aircraft", said the Lords report.
Lawyers for the families drew up a case for a judicial review after the Ministry of Defence refused in July this year to act on the Lords' report.
Solicitors Theodore Goddard and an eminent QC, Mark Littman, wrote to Hoon four weeks ago saying its legal team was helping the families on a pro bono [doing unpaid work for the public good] basis and asked the MoD to give an undertaking that it would not seek legal costs if an application for judicial review were unsuccessful.
Replying, Kim Brudenell for the Treasury solicitor refused to give any undertaking on costs. She also criticised the proposed legal action. "Furthermore we do not in any event consider that the secretary of state's response to the [Lords'] report was a decision that is amenable to judicial review," she said.
Faced with the threat of paying the MoD's costs, the families said they have been forced to drop plans for a judicial review. "The Government has effectively made it impossible for us to proceed," said Mike Tapper. His son Jonathan was among the four aircrew that died in the crash, which also killed 25 senior police and intelligence personnel.
Lord Chalfont, who has campaigned with Computer Weekly for the finding of negligence to be set aside, said the Treasury solicitor's letter was a "contemptuous dismissal of the case for a judicial review".