Government rejects new Chinook crash inquiry

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Indy Politics

The Government today poured cold water on hopes that a Chinook helicopter crash which wiped out much of Northern Ireland's intelligence community could be investigated again.

Defence Minister Baroness Taylor of Bolton said that it was not possible "to raise any hope" of a further inquiry into the 1994 tragedy despite documents that came to public attention this week casting doubt on the computer software in the helicopter.

An internal Ministry of Defence document written nine months before the Mull of Kintyre crash, which killed 29 people including 25 senior military, police and intelligence officers, said the engine control computer software was "positively dangerous".

An official RAF inquiry by Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten and Air Vice Marshal Sir John Day concluded the aircraft was airworthy and found the two pilots guilty of gross negligence, saying they were flying too low and too fast.

But three subsequent inquiries found the cause of the crash inconclusive and campaigners have long called for the special forces pilots on the Chinook, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, to be cleared of wrongdoing.

Labour's Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan, chairman of the Mull of Kintyre group which represents the families, said at question time today that "the findings of the inquiry conducted by Wratten and Day were in effect overturned by the Scottish fatal accident inquiry".

He asked Lady Taylor: "Would you be prepared to appoint a senior legal figure, a retired judge perhaps, to assess all of the evidence that was before the original tribunal and anything that was not available at the time but has come to hand?"

Until assurances could be given that the gross negligence conclusion was justified there would be "grave doubts raised by the families not only of the pilots and crew but also of the other men whose lives were lost in this tragedy", he said.

Lady Taylor said the two members of the original inquiry team had told a House of Lords committee that they were aware of the safety concerns but had "discounted them as possible factors in the accident".

She added: "The Board of Inquiry was conducted in a proper way, it was reviewed in a proper way and many Secretaries of State for Defence and indeed other ministers have actually looked at this issue time and time again as have Chiefs of Air Staff. There has actually been no new evidence presented."

In the "absence of any new evidence" the inquiry would not be reopened she said.

Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig of Radley, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, told peers that he appreciated the "great distress" to the families of those who had died but the "fundamental point about this tragedy was the standard of airmanship displayed" on a "routine" flight.

Lady Taylor said: "It is very disconcerting to consider what did happen on that day but I'm afraid the judgment that it was about fundamental standards of airmanship was a correct one."