Crash pilots' families lose fight

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The families of two helicopter pilots yesterday failed in their attempt to get a select committee investigation into the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre in which 25 intelligence officers were killed, writes Colin Brown.

Bruce George, the Labour chairman of the Commons select committee on defence, made it clear at the start of its hearing that the committee could not act as a substitute court of appeal over the findings of an accident investigation which found the two pilots, who died in the crash, guilty of gross negligence. The families of the pilots have been fighting for their names to be cleared, claiming that the pilots may have switched off a hi-tech onboard computer system because they were worried about its performance.

John Reid, minister of defence, said he had looked again at all the evidence over the past 48 hours with "compassionate eye" and had found nothing to challenge the inquiry findings. He stressed that he would be prepared to look at any new evidence.

He was challenged over the reliability of the computer system by Menzies Campbell, Libreral Democrat spokesman on defence, and Crispin Blunt, a former adviser to the ex-Tory defence secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who was in office at the time of the crash.

Mr Blunt raised serious questions about the reliability of the computer system, codenamed FADEC, raised by a former test pilot, Squadron Leader Robert Burke. The defence minister said there was no record of any incidents being reported by Squadron Leader Burke.