The Armed Forces minister and the head of the Royal Navy publicly apologised yesterday for grievous "systemic failings" that led to two submarine crewmen being killed by an underwater explosion.
A report into their deaths detailed failures in the "acquisition, manufacture, transport, storage, stowage and logistics management" of oxygen units that caused the blast aboard HMS Tireless, as it took part in an exercise off Alaska in March last year.
The board of inquiry concluded that "lack of understanding" and a "lack of quality control" within the Ministry of Defence contributed to the deaths of Leading Operator Mechanic Paul McCann, 32, and Operator Mechanic Anthony Huntrod, 20.
"These events are unacceptable and it is clear from the Board of Inquiry and other work that the MoD must accept responsibility for what happened," said Bob Ainsworth, the minister. "It is right for me to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the department for the actions or omissions which contributed to this tragic incident.
"I am extremely sorry, particularly to the families of those who lost their lives or were injured." The board of inquiry found that 996 "self-contained oxygen generators" used in Royal Navy subs had been found to be faulty and subsequently brought back into service. The paperwork relating to them had been altered.
The inquiry discovered some of the units were left in the open at the dockside for up to two weeks before being installed in the submarines, and that other oxygen generators which had failed manufacturers' safety checks may have also been put into service.
Anthony Huntrod's parents, Alan Huntrod and Brenda Gooch, said last night that justice had not been done over the deaths of their son and his fellow crewman, adding: "It is beyond belief that, in this day and age, our armed forces could be managed in a way that has such incredibly scant regard for the safety of those who enlist to serve their Queen and country.
"We feel that if this was in any other walk of life, there would have been a prosecution for corporate manslaughter."
Their statement added: "The report shows a systemic failure on health and safety issues. It is clear that there were no systems in place for the safe management of the devices. This would not be acceptable on an oil platform, a chemical plant or any other workplace and it should not be acceptable aboard a submarine. In our view, the report sets out in clear detail overwhelming evidence of gross negligence making the MoD culpable for the death of our son Anthony and Paul, his colleague."
The investigation found the explosion was probably caused by oil that seeped in to the unit, possibly combined with damage to the canister.
The Ministry of Defence said an investigation was under way into a number of issues raised by the board of inquiry. However, officials said no criminal prosecutions were likely.
The Health and Safety Executive, which has monitored the inquiry, said it was powerless to take any legal action because the deaths did not take place on the British mainland.
The generators were produced by the company Molecular Products, which said in a statement last night: "Our reading of the report, which we have just received, is that the explosion was probably caused by contamination of the oxygen generator and this occurred after they left our premises.
"We supply oxygen generators to the MoD, which is responsible for the transportation, storage and handling and for installing them on submarines."
Defence procurement blunders
The MoD bought eight Chinooks which were still not airworthy 13 years later. Upon delivery in 2001, the MoD was told they could only be flown safely up to an altitude of 500ft on a clear sunny day.
In 2002, it emerged that the Army's 67 new Apache attack helicopters, costing £27m each, could not fire Hellfire anti-tank missiles because debris could damage their rotors.
MPs criticised ministers last year for failing to answer key questions about plans to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent system. It was estimated to cost up to £20bn but the MoD admitted that could double.
The £2bn Bowman system was introduced in 2005 – ten years late . In tests, the weight of the radios broke Land Rover axles and they could not be fitted to Challenger 2 tanksReuse content