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Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 21:17 GMT
Coroner could call MoD minister
Hercules aircraft
The RAF Hercules was hit by hostile ground fire
The defence secretary could be called to give evidence at the inquest into an RAF plane crash in Iraq which killed 10 UK servicemen, a coroner has said.

A lack of anti-explosive foam in fuel tanks could have caused the loss of the Hercules, which was shot down by hostile fire in 2005, an inquiry found.

The family of one of the deceased said they wanted to question a member of the government, at the inquest in 2008.

Coroner David Masters replied that he would consider their request.

An RAF board of inquiry admitted that the lack of explosive suppressant foam (ESF) may have contributed to the crash of Hercules 179 in 2005.

ESF, which prevents fuel tanks exploding if hit by ground fire, has been standard in all US planes since 1967.

Somebody needs to be held to account
Richard Stead

A Board of Inquiry found that hostile ground-to-air fire had caused an explosion in the right-hand wing tank, which tore part of it away from the plane, leading to the crash.

Richard Stead, whose son Flt Lt David Stead, 35, died in the crash, has been lobbying to have the entire fleet made safer.

Now he had said he wants to question a representative of the government on newspaper reports that ESF was not fitted on cost grounds.

Mr Stead told a pre-inquest hearing in Trowbridge, Wiltshire: "In all the long list of witnesses there are no politicians mentioned.

"Somebody needs to be held to account."

He added that press reports had suggested that the then-defence secretary had turned down for funding ESF - and investigators compiling evidence for the inquest could find no record of this.

The coroner said he would consider Mr Stead's request.

Mr Masters added that the inquest would examine the role that could have been played by ESF, the dangers of a low-level sortie during daylight and problems with communication of intelligence between US and British forces.

'Willy-nilly'

The hearing, scheduled to begin on 31 March 2007, is due to call a number of witnesses whose identity will be concealed on national security grounds. Much of the inquest will be heard in private for this reason.

Mr Masters also said that the US Department of Defense had frustrated efforts to call American service personnel.

He added: "I have been told in no uncertain terms that the Department of Defense do not co-operate in assembling evidence to be taken at a coroner's inquest.

"It's not helpful and I should say that if we do not get consent from the US for statements made to the Board of Inquiry to be read I shall do it willy-nilly."

Those who died were Flt Lt Stead, Flt Lt Andrew Smith, Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, Chief Technician Richard Brown, Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, Sgt Robert O'Connor, Cpl David Williams, Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall and Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones.

EXPLOSIVE SUPPRESSANT FOAM SYSTEM
Graphic showing how safety foam can help protect Hercules
1. Without foam: Explosive mix of fuel vapour and air above liquid fuel ignites easily. Once this ignites, a compression wave pressurises the remaining gas, increasing the explosion.

2. With foam: Foam expands to fill space in tank as fuel level drops. Vapour ignition is confined to the area close to spark, stopping explosion.




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