Air crash widows 'betrayed' by Government

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Ireland Correspondent

The widows of 10 of the officers killed in the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre yesterday accused the Government of betrayal and dishonesty following reports that their compensation is to be limited to about pounds 100,000 each.

Twenty-nine men died just over a year ago when the helicopter flew into a hillside. Among the dead were senior officers of the RUC, MI5, Army intelligence and the Northern Ireland Office, together with four RAF crew.

They were on their way from Belfast to a conference in Scotland when the aircraft crashed, dealing the security forces perhaps the most devastating single blow of the Northern Ireland troubles. A week ago many of their families attended an anniversary memorial service at the scene of the crash.

At a press conference yesterday, the widows expressed anger at reports that the flight was to be treated as a civilian journey, which would limit compensation to about pounds 100,000 in each case.

Jill Davidson, whose husband Philip was an RUC Special Branch superintendent, said she felt betrayed by the attitude of the authorities. She said: "I just feel very hurt because we've come through an awful lot this past year. My family is still hurting and I don't feel the men deserve to be treated like this.

"There were such accolades given to them when they died, but now that all seems to be over and done with and they seem to feel, well that's it." Dr Susan Phoenix, whose husband Ian was also a Special Branch superintendent, accused the Government of dishonesty and of "dishonouring our men".

She said: "I have just spent a year fighting so many individuals, so many government agencies, here and across the water, for their help. I didn't want to feel angry. I haven't felt angry for a year but now I think a government which should have been supporting our men in their jobs obviously valued them for nothing. We've been treated abysmally, we've been patronised, we've been disregarded."

The women are appeal to Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, Stella Rimington, the head of MI5, and to the RUC and Army.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said compensation would be paid in accordance with the law, adding: "It would be wrong to comment further until we have had an opportunity to inform the next of kin of the accident victims and their legal advisers. This will be done in the near future."

The RAF Board of Inquiry report into the incident, to be published next week, is expected to attribute the crash to pilot error.

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "For the Ministry of Defence to take what is essentially a technical legal point would be extremely unfair. The people who died were people who had risked their lives, sometimes in very dangerous circumstances, and all of their families suffered as a result. Controlling public money is one thing; acting unfairly is another."

t The husband and four sons of a woman who died in the Kegworth air crash were yesterday awarded pounds 338,764 damages in the High Court. Kathleen Ryan, 41, a home-help, was one of 47 killed when a British Midland Boeing 737 crashed on the M1 in January 1989.