Army chiefs 'ignored warnings' spy plane was unsafe to fly

Andrew Johnson
Sunday 04 May 2008 00:00 BST
Ageing Nimrods: one exploded when leaking fuel ignited
Ageing Nimrods: one exploded when leaking fuel ignited (AFP/Getty Images)

The Ministry of Defence is bracing itself for what is set to be the most damaging allegations so far over failure to provide service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan with adequate equipment. An inquest this week into 14 men who died when an ageing Nimrod spy plane exploded in mid-air in 2006 will hear evidence that the MoD ignored repeated warnings from RAF pilots and ground crew that the planes were unsafe to fly.

The explosion – the single biggest military loss of life since the Falklands war – was caused when leaking fuel ignited after coming into contact with an uninsulated hot air pipe. In December the MoD took the unusual step of admitting responsibility for the accident, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, apologised to the families.

Coroners have repeatedly heard evidence of insufficient and inadequate equipment for service men and women. Last week, an inquest into the death of Richard Watson, 23, heard how he was shot dead while travelling in a lightly armoured vehicle because the more heavily armoured Vikings were not available.

Last month, the High Court ruled sending troops into battle without proper equipment could breach their human rights. An inquest into the death from dehydration of Jason Smith, a reservist, in Basra in 2003, revealed inadequate medical procedures and advice on dealing with the risk.

Also last month the inquest into the 10 service personnel who died when a Hercules transport plane was shot down in April 2005 was adjourned until September. The plane should have been fitted with explosion-suppressant foam, families argue.

Later this month the MoD will face another legal challenge, when the mother of a soldier killed by a bomb that destroyed a Land Rover will argue the vehicles should not have been used as they were inadequately armoured.

Julian Lewis, a shadow defence minister, said: "We should fully fund the conflicts we have undertaken, and that has not happened."

A MoD spokesman said: "We have delivered equipment valued at more than £10bn in the last three years. We are responsive to operational requirements and have invested heavily in developing our equipment."

Fit for purpose?

Land Rovers: Soft-topped Land Rovers have been identified as vulnerable to roadside bombs.

Electronic Counter-Measures: Army said to have failed to fit Land Rovers with devices that can prevent roadside bombs detonating.

Warrior armoured vehicles: Armour plated on top and sides, but not underneath.

Hercules: Inquest heard the Hercules aircraft shot down in 2005 should have been fitted with explosion-suppressant foam.

Duty of care: Private Jason Smith died of dehydration in Basra in 2003. Inquest heard the wrong medical advice had been given.

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