Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 13:33 UK

Nimrod families want safety talks

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

The families of 14 British servicemen killed in an RAF Nimrod crash in Afghanistan in 2006 have urged the armed forces minister to meet them.

In a letter they have asked Bob Ainsworth to discuss with them the airworthiness of the Nimrod fleet.

After an inquest in Oxfordshire in May, a coroner called for the fleet to be grounded but the minister and defence secretary said it was airworthy.

The inquest heard a design flaw led to the Nimrod exploding after a fuel leak.

The explosion near Kandahar in September 2006 killed all 14 men on board. Twelve of those who died were from 120 Squadron, based at RAF Kinloss in Moray. The two other victims were attached to the squadron.

We were all very upset that you felt able to make an immediate comment about the airworthiness of the Nimrod fleet before you even had the chance to read the coroner's verdict
Robert Dicketts

Robert Dicketts, father of L/Cpl Oliver Dicketts, 27 - who was killed in the explosion - has written to Mr Ainsworth on behalf of all the families of those killed.

Following the inquest Mr Ainsworth and Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted the fleet was airworthy and safe and that all the issues raised by the crash were being dealt with.

In his letter Mr Dicketts said the minister's experts must have "completely different information to that which we heard".

It said: "First of all we were all very upset that you felt able to make an immediate comment about the airworthiness of the Nimrod fleet before you even had the chance to read the coroner's verdict.

"Bearing in mind the seriousness of the matter we would have thought that you should have first read it, and then called in your experts to advise you before making any comments.

"It is clear to us that your experts have completely different information to that which we heard in the coroner's court.

"In view of this we would ask that we have a meeting to both review your experts' evidence and that which we heard.

'Not airworthy'

He said the minister would be aware several experts had "stated quite clearly" the fleet was still not airworthy.

He added that in cases where the experts thought the plane was still airworthy they had, in some cases, had their evidence "discredited".

Speaking after the inquest coroner Andrew Walker said the fleet had "never been airworthy" as he recorded narrative verdicts.

Des Browne reacted by saying changes made to the Nimrod meant it was now safe for crews.

The 14 men killed were:

Flt Lt Steven Johnson, 38, from Collingham, Nottinghamshire, Flt Lt Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, 28, from Bournemouth, Dorset, Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, 40, from Redruth, Cornwall, Flt Lt Allan James Squires, 39, from Clatterbridge, Merseyside and Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, 28, from Liverpool.

Flt Sgt Gary Wayne Andrews, 48, from Tankerton, Kent, Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, 42, from Dundee, Flt Sgt Gerard Martin Bell, 48, from Newport, Shropshire, and Flt Sgt Adrian Davies, 49, from Amersham, Buckinghamshire, Sgt Benjamin James Knight, 25, from Bridgwater, Sgt John Joseph Langton, 29,from Liverpool and Sgt Gary Paul Quilliam, 42, from Manchester.

L/Cpl Oliver Simon Dicketts, of the Parachute Regiment, from Wadhurst and Royal Marine Joseph David Windall, 22, from Hazlemere.

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