The Mull of Kintyre Disaster: Mayhew defends use of single aircraft

THE Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, revealed yesterday that the Inverness conference was an annual event and that security forces had regularly flown to it in a single aircraft.

Sir Patrick and Sir Hugh Annesley, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, emphasised that the Chinook helicopter was regarded as a safe means of transport, rejecting criticisms that it was imprudent for so many senior personnel to travel together.

They said the conference had been held for some years, Sir Patrick describing it as 'concerned with the fight against terrorism throughout the United Kingdom'. No further details were supplied, but it is assumed the 25-strong contingent from Northern Ireland was due to meet a similar representation of senior security personnel from Britain.

The UK dimension to the conference suggests it was primarily concerned with the IRA campaign which has for some years affected both sides of the Irish Sea. It may also have been intended to evaluate the sincerity of Sinn Fein's commitment to what the party describes as 'the Irish peace process'.

Sir Patrick agreed, at a Belfast news conference, that security personnel regularly used a single aircraft to go to the conference.

Although there have been a series of IRA attacks on helicopters in Northern Ireland in recent years, most of these have been on smaller aircraft in border areas. Military flights between Northern Ireland and Britain have never, so far as is known, come under such attack.

Using a Chinook offered the advantages of avoiding the security risks of a commercial airport and of being able to fly directly to Inverness without the need for an airfield.

The conference was to have taken place in nearby Fort George, home to the Royal Scots regiment. The fort is one of the outstanding artillery fortifications in Europe. Situated on a promontory in the Moray Firth, it has 60ft walls and is surrounded by a dry moat and is considered virtually impregnable. The Royal Scots had just completed a tour of duty in Northern Ireland.

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