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Westminster correspondent David Porter
"Persistent doubts have been raised about the helicopter's mechanical reliability"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Bell calls for fresh Chinook inquiry
Chinook wreckage
The crash happened on the Mull of Kintyre
Independent MP Martin Bell has called for the re-opening of an inquiry into the 1994 Mull of Kintyre Chinook helicoper crash.

Mr Bell said the Ministry of Defence had been guilty of "stonewalling" attempts to have the crash re-assessed and called for new evidence to be taken into account.



New evidence has come to light - a mass of it - which undermines the verdict against the pilots

Martin Bell
The crash killed all 29 people on board, including key members of Northern Ireland's intelligence community.

Last week, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon ruled out a new probe unless new evidence was brought forward.

The official verdict found pilot error was to blame, but the families of the two pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, have consistently disputed the findings.

The two men and 27 army and intelligence officers died when the RAF Chinook ZD576 carrying them to a conference in Inverness crashed into a hillside.


New evidence
A US Army Chinook crashed in Kentucky in 1996 killing all five crew
Another US Chinook in 1997 had "inexplicably and uncontrollably flipped upside down" nearly crashing
Speaking during a debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Bell told MPs that the RAF's original board of inquiry had found that there were "many potential causes of the accident."

But two Air Marshals, Sir William Wratten and Sir John Day, had "overruled" the board and found the pilots posthumously guilty of "gross negligence."

Calling the MoD to account, Mr Bell said: "New evidence has come to light - a mass of it - which undermines the verdict against the pilots.

"It includes two accidents in the United States - accidents to the same type of Chinook, and this was evidence that was not available to the RAF's board of inquiry because those accidents had not happened."

Government must 'think again'

Mr Bell, the independent MP for Tatton, also challenged the MoD's claim that the 1994 crash was not worth a review as it had "time-expired."

"Natural justice is never time-expired. It does not have a shelf life. It is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

"It requires in this case that the government should think again, reopen the inquiry and be willing to set aside the verdict of gross negligence.

"I know I speak for other members of the Mull of Kintyre [Action] Group in assuring the House that our swords will not sleep in our hands until that happens."

Persistent doubts have been raised about the helicopter's mechanical reliability.

And the pilots' supporters have now set up a campaigning group to try and get the verdict overturned and have pledged to appeal directly to the Prime Minister Tony Blair if necessary.

Mr Bell has been backed in his calls by the former Tory defence secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

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See also:

20 Jun 00 | Scotland
Minister rejects Chinook rethink
07 Jun 99 | UK Politics
'Pilot error' finding repeated
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