Shoreham inquests coroner loses court bid for pilot cockpit footage

Andrew Hill survived after the Hawker Hunter jet he was flying exploded into a fireball on a busy dual carriageway.

Jess Glass
Friday 04 February 2022 14:41
A view of a new memorial for the Shoreham Airshow victims (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A view of a new memorial for the Shoreham Airshow victims (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The coroner due to hold inquests into the deaths of 11 men in the Shoreham Airshow tragedy has lost her High Court bid to get video footage from the pilot’s cockpit.

Andrew Hill survived after the Hawker Hunter jet he was flying exploded into a fireball on a busy dual carriageway at the Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex on August 22 2015.

The crash was investigated by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which found the crash could have been avoided and was caused by pilot error when Mr Hill flew too low and too slowly while carrying out a manoeuvre.

Mr Hill later faced a criminal trial in 2019, where he was acquitted of gross negligence manslaughter.

At his trial, Mr Hill’s lawyers raised the issue of whether he had suffered some form of cognitive impairment which caused him to fly the plane how he did.

Part of the evidence shown to the jury at the Old Bailey was the video recording from the plane’s cockpit recorded on Mr Hill’s Go-Pro.

After the trial, the AAIB reviewed their investigation and concluded there was “no new and significant evidence of cognitive impairment” and that their findings were still valid.

The senior coroner for West Sussex, Penelope Schofield, will be holding inquests into the 11 men’s deaths, which have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The coroner had asked for the footage to assess whether a report from a doctor, a paediatric oncologist who is also a friend of Mr Hill, could be evidence that the AAIB investigation into the air crash was incomplete, flawed or deficient in considering cognitive impairment.

The moment prior to the aircrash during the Shoreham Airshow (Sussex Police/CPS/PA)

Lawyers for the coroner had argued that the paper made a credible suggestion that the AAIB’s investigation of cognitive impairment was incomplete, but said she did not have credible evidence.

Mr Hill and the families of three of the men who died supported the coroner’s request for the footage.

In a judgment on Friday, two senior judges dismissed her bid.

Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Mr Justice Saini, ruled there “is neither credible evidence nor, even adopting her approach, a credible suggestion that the AAIB investigations were incomplete, flawed or deficient on the issue of cognitive impairment”.

The High Court in London previously heard that cockpit recordings are protected from being disclosed for purposes other than safety investigations.

The AAIB had disagreed with the coroner’s request, arguing that giving the footage would have a “significant potential adverse impact on future safety investigations”.

The court heard that the AAIB cannot compel people or organisations to co-operate with their investigations and that the policy of protecting material helps encourage people involved in air accidents to cooperate.

In the judgment, Dame Victoria said: “There is a justified concern that wider disclosure of protected materials would mean that witnesses would refer to, or be advised to refer to, their employer organisation, for example manufacturers, operators, regulators, before dealing with the AAIB.”

She continued: “If the AAIB’s most sensitive records were disclosed, principal among them cockpit video and audio recordings and witness evidence, co-operation with other states’ investigatory bodies and overseas manufacturers, operators and product designers would be much more difficult as they would seek to limit their own reputational damage.”

The judge also said that Mr Hill’s wish for the footage to be disclosed was of “little weight”.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in