Page last updated at 20:08 GMT, Sunday, 31 August 2008 21:08 UK

Nimrod families take legal action

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

Relatives of some of the 14 servicemen killed when their RAF Nimrod plane exploded in Afghanistan in 2006 are set to sue the Ministry of Defence.

A writ accusing the MoD of negligence, failing to minimise risk and a breach of the right to life is to be served on Monday.

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

The MoD said it "cannot comment on a potential lawsuit".

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.

Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxford Andrew Walker, speaking on Sunday, said: "The aircraft was in my judgment never airworthy from the first release to service in 1969."

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."

'Three-fold' action

The issuing of the writ to Defence Secretary Des Browne will be the first time the department has faced a legal challenge under the European Convention of Human Rights.

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

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

"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 is "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 government has refused to agree with the coroner's recommendation that the entire Nimrod fleet be grounded.

According to the MoD, new procedures mean the Nimrod aircraft is safe.

The MoD said any lawsuit "would, of course, be addressed when presented".

A spokeswoman said: "We have ceased air-to-air refuelling and the use of very hot air systems when our Nimrods are in flight.

"These measures, together with the enhanced aircraft maintenance and inspection procedures introduced, ensure the aircraft, as it is today, is safe to fly."

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