Chinook Crash (Mull of Kintyre)
Oral Answers to Questions — Defence
2:30 pm

Photo of Henry Bellingham

Henry Bellingham (Shadow Minister, Justice; North West Norfolk, Conservative)

If he will meet representatives of the families of personnel killed in the Mull of Kintyre Chinook helicopter crash to discuss identified computer software failings.

Photo of Bill Rammell

Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence; Harlow, Labour)

First, may I offer my sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the Mull of Kintyre Chinook helicopter crash? I will meet representatives of the families of those who were tragically killed in 1994, to explain why there is no new evidence to lead the Ministry of Defence to revisit the board of inquiry's findings.

Photo of Henry Bellingham

Henry Bellingham (Shadow Minister, Justice; North West Norfolk, Conservative)

As the Minister knows, I represent the family of one of the deceased pilots, Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Tapper. Obviously, the family are still very distressed indeed about the finding of gross professional negligence against their brave son. Will the Minister confirm that, since the crash, there has been a change in the rules governing the attribution of blame, so that deceased pilots cannot now be found guilty of gross negligence? Surely it is only fair and just that the two Chinook pilots who were killed-Flight Lieutenants Cook and Tapper-should benefit from that change of rule.

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Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence; Harlow, Labour)

I reiterate that I am willing to meet representatives of the family. The change in the rules governing inquiries was brought about by this Government in July 1997, but it was made abundantly clear at that stage that that would not be retrospective and that it would not affect previous rulings.

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James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire, Conservative)

As both pilots were found grossly negligent, how does the Minister know with absolutely no doubt whatever that both pilots agreed with the route and the course of action being taken?

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Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence; Harlow, Labour)

Let me make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know has taken a detailed interest in this matter, that in all the publicity surrounding this case-and certainly that produced by the BBC in recent weeks-there has never been any evidence of technical failure. The clear reality of the situation, demonstrated by a clear and diligent analysis, was that the pilots flew their aircraft at low level and high speed towards rising ground and in poor weather, which was contrary to the flight safety instructions. It is for that reason that the board of inquiry reached the conclusion it did.

Photo of Gerald Howarth

Gerald Howarth (Shadow Minister, Defence; Aldershot, Conservative)

Surely the fact that the board of inquiry itself did not entirely rule out the possibility of some kind of technical failure, together with public unease at the verdict of gross negligence on pilots and the number of calls for a review from all sides of the House, militates in favour of having such a review. If this Government will not hold such a review, let me tell the Minister that an incoming Conservative Government will.

Photo of Bill Rammell

Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence; Harlow, Labour)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the previous Conservative Government who accepted the board of inquiry's findings in the first instance. This is a very sensitive issue and I fully understand the concerns of all the families that have lost their loved ones, but I do not think that we should play politics with this issue. The substance of the case is that absolutely no evidence of a technical failure has been produced that would lead to a different conclusion from that of the board of inquiry.