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The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
"The Exocet attack started a fire that spread uncontrollably"
 real 56k

Sunday, 1 July, 2001, 02:16 GMT 03:16 UK
Navy accused of Falklands 'cover-up'
HMS Sheffield
HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile
The Royal Navy is being accused of covering up a blunder during the Falkland Islands war which led to the destruction of a British ship by an Exocet missile.

Twenty British sailors died aboard HMS Sheffield when it was blown up by an Argentine Exocet missile during the 1982 conflict.

Each and every one of us have carried this guilt for 20 years, we've carried hurt for 20 years

Simon Westbrook, former crewman

Almost two decades later, former crewmen claim that because a senior officer was absent from his post when the attack warning was given, evasive action was not taken.

The MoD has issued a statement denying the allegations of a cover-up.

Deadly missiles

The BBC documentary Exocet, to be broadcast on BBC Two on Sunday, describes the tragic chain of events leading up to the sinking of HMS Sheffield.

It also reveals the subsequent measures taken by the British government to prevent Argentine forces stockpiling the deadly missile.
Falklands war
Crewmen say they have "lived with the guilt" of knowing what happened

There were no court martials following the loss of the ship and no blame attributed by the Navy, but many former crewmen say it is "time the truth came out".

HMS Sheffield was the first British ship to be lost to enemy action since World War II.

The official explanation was that the Sheffield's radar was down at the time and the only warning came when the missile was sighted from the ship's bridge.

But the BBC documentary says that one of the Sheffield's radar operators did detect attacking aircraft.

Attack warning

Captain Sam Salt had gone off duty and handed over command of the tactical control room to the Anti-Air Warfare Officer (AAWO) Lieutenant Commander Nick Batho.

Mr Batho was not in the control room when the warning came, and crewmen say he appeared about 50 seconds before the missile hit.

Other British ships in the fleet fired chaff - strips of silver foil that confuse radar and divert missiles - but the Sheffield did not.

There was no tampering with evidence, and no cover-up

MoD

Ship steward Craig Bryden claimed that, almost a minute and a half after Mr Batho was called to the Operations Room, he appeared in the wardroom "aimlessly sauntering down a ladder".

Mr Bryden also alleges that statements he made to a confidential Board of Inquiry about Mr Batho's absence from his post were struck from the record.

He told the BBC: "I've suffered. All the guys on board have suffered.

"I feel that it's time the public know."

Crewmen's "guilt"

Air picture reporter Simon Westbrook was the first member of the Sheffield's crew to spot the incoming missile, and says the ship's command had about three minutes to act.

He said: "The first indication was picking up two blips at 60 miles out.

"My initial first reaction was, something's going on, because we knew there weren't any friendly aircraft within the area."

Falklands war
The revelations have come to light almost 20 years after the war

He went on: "Each and every one of us have carried this guilt for 20 years, we've carried hurt for 20 years. It's a thing that you - you can't just shake off."

Some feel that Captain Sam Salt has been made to carry the can for the events which led to the loss of the ship.

Crew member Chris Kent says he feels Captain Sam Salt has " taken the rap for (this) for nearly 20 years".

"I think enough is enough... Sam Salt is not to blame," he told the BBC.

The MoD has issued a statement saying:

"Lieutenant Commander Nick Batho was not in the Ops Room immediately before the missile attack warning as the command did not assess the threat of air attack merited his continuous presence.

"The AAWO was attending duties elsewhere but close to the Ops Room at all times. He returned to the Ops Room on receipt of the warning and was present when the missile impacted the ship."

It adds that there was no tampering with evidence, and no cover-up.

Spy mission

With a range of over 20 miles, Exocets were seen as the main Argentine threat to the task force and every effort was made to take out the remaining missiles during the war.

The SAS were instructed to attack the Argentine air base where the Exocet-carying planes were kept - but the plan was abandoned at the 11th hour because it was deemed to be too dangerous.

The documentary also reveals a number of attempts by the Navy to prevent Argentina from procuring any more Exocet missiles during the war.

A mission by former Royal Marine, arms dealer and MI6 spy Anthony Divall was one of the schemes which succeeded in preventing more of the weapons reaching enemy hands.

Exocet will be shown on BBC Two on Sunday 1 July at 2100BST.

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See also:

16 Oct 99 | Americas
Historic flight to Falklands
12 Aug 99 | Americas
Anger over Falklands flag display
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