Pipers lament as 15 victims of the Mull of Kintyre helicopter disaster come home

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Pipers played laments yesterday as the coffins of 15 victims of last week's helicopter crash in the Mull of Kintyre were unloaded from a Hercules aircraft at RAF Aldergrove in Belfast, writes David McKittrick.

Relatives of those killed, together with political and security force chiefs, assembled at the base, where the Chinook helicopter began its ill-fated journey. In a two- hour ceremony they heard eulogies from the RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley, Army GOC Lt-Gen Sir Roger Wheeler, and Sir John Chilcot, permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office.

Army and RUC pipers played laments and slow airs as the Union flag-draped coffins were brought one by one from the aircraft. The aircraft carried the bodies of 10 RUC Special Branch officers, three army intelligence officers, a security specialist attached to the NIO, and an RAF crewman. A total of 29 people were killed.

Sir Hugh Annesley said the police officers killed were 'very special people engaged in very special work'. He said it was not possible to reveal details of their work, but added: 'Every decent, law-abiding person in Northern Ireland, regardless of religion or politics, has reason to be thankful that these good, brave men did their duty.'

He said they had repeatedly prevented atrocities planned by both republican and loyalist groups. Later, the first of the funeral services, for Detective Superintendent Philip Davidson, took place at Moira, Co Down, with senior officers and officials in attendance. It was also attended by the head of police in the Irish Republic, Garda Commissioner Patrick Culligan.

(Photograph omitted)