Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 19:02 UK

Nimrod families launch legal bid

Fourteen servicemen were killed when a Nimrod exploded in mid-air in 2006

Relatives of some of the 14 servicemen killed when an RAF Nimrod plane exploded in Afghanistan in 2006 are suing the Ministry of Defence.

A writ accusing the MoD of negligence, failing to minimise risk and a breach of the right to life has been served on Defence Secretary Des Browne.

In May, a coroner ruled the Nimrod fleet, based at RAF Kinloss, had never been airworthy and should be grounded.

The MoD said it had already planned to compensate families of the victims.

The Nimrod spy plane exploded on 2 September 2006, shortly after undergoing air-to-air refuelling.

The blast was caused by fuel leaking into a dry bay and igniting on contact with a hot air pipe.

The action is being brought by the families of Sgt Ben Knight, 25, and Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, 28.

Flt Lt Knight's father Graham, 56, said Monday was the last chance for the families to launch the legal action, as it had to be carried out within two years of the accident - Tuesday will mark its second anniversary.

"Nobody has been held accountable for the actual crash," he said.

"The government has stood up and said we are sorry. The coroner has said the aircraft was never airworthy but nobody in the RAF or MoD has ever been held accountable for it."

The issuing of the writ is the first time the department has faced a legal challenge under the European Convention of Human Rights.

We have ceased air-to-air refuelling and the use of very hot air systems when our Nimrod's are in flight

Barrister John Cooper, who is acting on behalf of the two families, has said the action is "three-fold".

"Firstly negligence - it is the families' argument that the Ministry of Defence had a duty to protect, so far as is practicable, the lives of service people and that they breached that duty," he said.

"Secondly, breach of statutory duty under the Health and Safety at Work act 1974. This states that any employer should take steps as far as is reasonably practicable to minimise risk.

"And thirdly, under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights."

This principle asserts that an individual's right to life is protected under law.

He said there was "a duty on the government to protect life by minimising risk", adding that the claimants believe "the aeroplane was unairworthy and the Ministry of Defence should have known".

He said his clients "accept there is always risk in war" but felt "the design of Nimrod was fundamentally flawed".

Safe to fly

The MoD says new procedures mean the Nimrod aircraft is safe.

On the legal action, a spokesman said: "Ever since the publication of the Nimrod Board of Inquiry last December, the secretary of state for defence has been clear that the MoD will pay compensation to those families affected by this tragedy.

"In doing so, he sought to remove additional pressure on the families.

"The claims served by two families in Scotland are covered by the secretary of state's intention that compensation will be paid.

"We understand that a separate claim may have been lodged at the High Court referring to Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers right to life.

"No details have yet been received on this claim and we are therefore unable to comment further at this stage."

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