Page last updated at 20:10 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Cost cuts blamed for Nimrod crash

Review author Charles Haddon-Cave said "financial pressures and cuts" were to blame

An independent review into a fatal 2006 Nimrod crash, which killed 14 service personnel, has accused the MoD of sacrificing safety to cut costs.

The highly critical report, by Charles Haddon-Cave QC, said the Afghanistan crash occurred because of a "systemic breach" of the military covenant.

A safety review of the Nimrod MR2 carried out by the MoD, BAE Systems and QinetiQ was branded a "lamentable job".

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth apologised to victims' families.

Fourteen crewmen, based at RAF Kinloss in Moray, died when the aircraft - XV230 - blew up after air-to-air refuelling over Afghanistan when leaking fuel made contact with a hot air pipe.

Graham Knight, whose son Ben died in the explosion, said his son and all the other servicemen "doing their job" in Afghanistan "a hundred per cent" had been let down by "those people who are behind them".

Joe Windall, whose son, also Joe, died on board the Nimrod, said the findings had been astonishing.

ANALYSIS
Caroline Wyatt
Caroline Wyatt, BBC defence correspondent

The Nimrod review is the most devastating attack on the MoD and the defence industry in living memory.

Its language is direct, its criticisms unsparing.

Charles Haddon-Cave describes "deep organisational trauma" at the MoD as resulting from the strategic defence review of 1998.

Internal promotion resulted not from being on top of safety but from being on top of a budget.

He recommends a host of solutions, including a new military airworthiness authority that is independent of the MoD.

However, the alarming insights offered by the Nimrod Review will lead many to wonder if if such whole-scale change to the culture can be achieved - not least at a time when financial pressures are even greater than they were in 1998.

"The inefficiencies of someone caused me to lose my son," he said.

Mr Haddon-Cave condemned the change of organisational culture within the MoD between 1998 and 2006, when financial targets came to distract from safety.

He quoted a former senior RAF officer who told his inquiry: "There was no doubt that the culture of the time had switched.

"In the days of the RAF chief engineer in the 1990s, you had to be on top of airworthiness.

"By 2004 you had to be on top of your budget if you wanted to get ahead."

Mr Haddon-Cave's report also criticised two RAF officers - Air Commodore George Baber, who was a group captain at the time, and Wing Commander Michael Eagles.

Air Comdr Baber led the MoD integrated project team responsible for a safety review of the RAF's Nimrods, which took place between 2001 and 2005.

The report's author accused him of a "fundamental failure of leadership" in drawing up the "safety case" into potential dangers in the fleet.

Mr Haddon-Cave wrote: "He failed to give the NSC (Nimrod safety case) the priority it deserved. In doing so, he failed, in truth, to make safety his first priority."

Graham Knight, who lost his son Ben, says that the accident could have been avoided.

As head of air vehicle for the Nimrod, Wing Cdr Michael Eagles was supposed to be in charge of managing production of the safety review.

The report found that he delegated the project "wholesale" to an MoD civilian worker who was too inexperienced and not competent enough to manage it.

It stated: "Michael Eagles failed to give adequate priority, care and personal attention to the NSC task.

"He failed properly to utilise the resources available to him within the Nimrod IPT to ensure the airworthiness of the Nimrod fleet."

Mr Ainsworth told the Commons the two officers had been moved to staff posts which held no responsibility for safety and the RAF would now consider if any "further action" would be taken against them.

He also said Mr Haddon-Cave, one of Britain's leading aviation law barristers, had been critical of both the MoD and its industrial partners at both organisational and individual levels.

Mr Haddon-Cave said he had criticised 10 individuals in the report - five at the MoD, three at BAE Systems and two at QinetiQ - while throughout the review BAE Systems had been a company "in denial".

NIMROD REPORT
Nimrod XV230 (Pic: AirTeam Images.com)

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A safety review of the ageing Nimrod MR2 a year before the crash, carried out by the MoD, BAE and QinetiQ, was a "lamentable job" which failed to identify "key dangers", he said.

"Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency and cynicism. The best opportunity to prevent the accident to XV230 was tragically lost," he said.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the report was a "formidable indictment" and "genuinely shocking", containing information that previous incidents and warning signs had been ignored.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: "This is a tragic case of an accident that could have been avoided."

The Ministry of Defence has grounded all Nimrods whose engine-bay hot air ducts had not been replaced.

However, Mr Haddon-Cave found no reason to recommend the grounding of the entire Nimrod MR2 fleet.

He has written to the families of the servicemen who died.

Mr Ainsworth said the "rigorous" report would make distressing reading for the relatives of those who died.

HOW THE NIMROD CRASHED
Nimrod
1. Nimrod refuels in mid-air
2. Possible fuel over-flow from number one tank
3.Second possible source of leak is pipe couplings behind number seven tank
4. Leaked fuel contacts hot pipe and ignites
5. Fire and smoke alarms triggered in bomb bay and underfloor by sensitive wiring

"On behalf of the MoD and the Royal Air Force, I would like again to say sorry to all the families who lost loved ones," he said.

"I am sorry for the mistakes that have been made and the lives that have been lost as a result of our failure. Nothing I can say or do will bring these men back."

Mr Ainsworth said the MoD had already implemented measures to improve safety and airworthiness of the Nimrod fleet, insisting the department had not been "idle" while Mr Haddon-Cave's review was being carried out.

This included the ending of air-to-air refuelling.

The MoD has since admitted negligence in relation to the explosion.

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the review, which began in January, had a broad remit.

It has looked at the airworthiness of the Nimrod MR2 fleet since its introduction into service in 1979.

The 14 men killed on the Nimrod 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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