The Defence Secretary Liam Fox yesterday publicly apologised to the families of the pilots in the Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash after an independent inquiry exonerated the men of gross negligence.
Relatives of Flight-Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook were told that the two young pilots should never have been blamed for the 1994 Chinook crash, which killed all 29 people on board.
The inquiry, led by retired Judge Lord Philip, found that "it was impossible to find that the pilots had been negligent to any degree" because there was insufficient evidence to establish why the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in dense fog.
Chris Cook, brother of Richard Cook, said today's report meant a "dreadful wrong has been righted". "The reputation of these two young officers has been restored... our two families always believed that this country would deliver us justice and that has been achieved today," he said.
Mike Tapper, Jonathan's father, said the 17-year wait for justice was down to "some very wooden-headed people in the MoD". Asked about his wife, who died in 2005, he said: "Hazel never gave up her fight against Parkinson's disease or her fight to clear Jonathan's name... this, today, is closure."
Dr Fox announced a review of the evidence last September, honouring a pledge made while the Tories were in opposition. His decision came after successive defence secretaries and prime ministers refused to reopen the case, despite widespread criticisms about the original RAF verdict made by two air marshals, Sir William Wratten and Sir John Day.
Lord Philip's inquiry found that according to the regulations in force at the time, a finding of negligence should only have been made against air crew killed in an accident if there was "absolutely no doubt whatsoever" about the matter. Dr Fox did not attach any personal blame to the air marshals, insisting that they had acted in "good faith" but had been given "incorrect legal advice". He also defended the safety record of the Chinook aircraft.
David Davies, a Tory MP who has been a long-term supporter of the campaign, said it had always been clear that the verdict was legally flawed. "This is a great day for justice, " he said. Sir Menzies Campbell said the inquiry showed that "Parliament still works... Parliament exists to redress grievances and this one has been put right".