Offshore Helicopter Safety — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:03 pm on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 3:03 pm, 6th February 2019

I agree with the hon. Lady up to a point. There will be occasions when it is absolutely crucial that the AAIB should proceed in the way that it is doing. It should not insist on proceeding in that way on every occasion, instead of exercising a measure of judgment and discretion about the information that can be shared at any stage with the police, the Procurator Fiscal Service and Crown counsel; that would indicate that we had two public bodies that were focusing solely on their work, rather than on the interests of the families.

The only people not given proper consideration in this process are the families. It is unacceptable that those families still do not know whether there are to be criminal proceedings or a fatal accident inquiry, five and a half years after the deaths of their loved ones. That does not allow them the closure that they absolutely deserve and need. That goes to the point made by the hon. Member for Stockton North about a public inquiry. When the sheriff has made his or her determination, there almost certainly will be a fatal accident inquiry, which will have the opportunity to make recommendations, and which might involve issues that would be appropriate for a public inquiry, but unless and until we get to the stage of having the FAI, we simply do not know that.

I hope that the Minister has heard what I have said about the work of the AAIB, and I hope that the Lord Advocate and those in the Crown Office in Edinburgh have heard. Even though they did not get to the starting line until March 2016, the fact that in February 2019 we still have no final determination from Crown counsel suggests to me that the Crown Office is also not beyond a measure of criticism. I know about fatal accident inquiries—I worked for three years in the Procurator Fiscal Service many years ago—and I know they are technical and difficult cases that require thorough preparation, but it is getting on for three years now; surely to goodness there is enough to bring a case to court, or at the very least for a decision about which course of action will be pursued.

We are at the point when all those charged with investigation and prosecution in the system need to take a long, hard look at what they do and how they do it. They should give more consideration to the families of those who have suffered in these tragedies.