Page last updated at 15:33 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 16:33 UK

Families react to Nimrod verdict

Coffins of the Nimrod crash victims
The families of the victims say the Nimrods have never been safe

The families of 14 servicemen who died in an RAF Nimrod crash in Afghanistan have called on the government to ground the reconnaissance fleet immediately.

A coroner at the inquest into the deaths of those killed said the fleet had "never been airworthy", but ministers insist the Nimrod is safe.

Andy Knight, one of the victim's brothers, said the Nimrod had not been airworthy for 40 years.

Robert Dicketts, another victim's father, said it should "stay landed".

The 14 men died when the plane they were in exploded after air-to-air refuelling in 2006.

Coroner Andrew Walker earlier called for the RAF Nimrod fleet to be grounded as he recorded narrative verdicts at the inquest into their deaths.

This plane is not airworthy, it has not been for 40 years. It is not airworthy today by the MoD's [Ministry of Defence] own regulations and standards and it should not be flying
Andy Knight
Victim's brother

Armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth has insisted the Nimrod remains safe and that all the issues raised by the crash are being dealt with.

And the RAF's most senior engineer said design failures had been eradicated and the Nimrod was now subject to enhanced maintenance and inspection procedures.

But Andy Knight, the brother of Sgt Ben Knight, one of those killed, said the statement by Mr Ainsworth was a "disgrace".

"This plane is not airworthy, it has not been for 40 years. It is not airworthy today by the MoD's [Ministry of Defence] own regulations and standards and it should not be flying.

"And it is flying over every one of our constituencies, it is flying over Afghanistan. I don't care whether the troops on the ground require it, there's 14 men in that plane flying around.

"Their lives are just as important as the operational need by troops on the ground - and it should not be flying."

MoD 'to blame'

Shona Beattie, wife of Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, agreed that flying the planes put the lives of people on the ground in jeopardy.

"We just wish people had listened to us earlier. Everyone still flying has been put at risk."

The best news that we could have is that there is already a message going out to the Nimrod fleet - land and stay landed
Robert Dicketts
Victim's father

Helen Nicholas, the widow of Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, who was also killed, said the MoD was to blame for what happened.

"The disarray and disconnect within the MoD has led to disaster. Crew Three and all members on board were fantastic personnel, experienced professional aviators and the crew on board also with them could do nothing to prevent what happened [to] them."

Robert Dicketts, the father of another victim, L/Cpl Oliver Simon Dicketts, said the MoD needed to take the coroner's recommendations seriously.

"I think all of us, this is the families, urge that for once they [the MoD] do carry out the recommendations. And the best news that we could have is that there is already a message going out to the Nimrod fleet - land and stay landed."

Expertise 'disappeared'

But Richard Mitchelmore, father of Flt Lt Leigh Mitchelmore, feared the MoD would do "absolutely nothing" and that "these boys will risk their lives every day".

Michael Bell, the brother of Flt Sgt Gerard Bell, who was also killed, worked on Nimrods in the past. He told the BBC he had never suspected the planes were unsafe.

"Never, because we - in the 70s and the 80s - we had a robust engineering support system. "The air force was in a position in those days to have men to do jobs and we were completely in the hands of a superb RAF engineering organisation that was doing its job properly.

"Somewhere over the years the expertise has either disappeared or gone."





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