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Thursday, 30 November, 2000, 19:21 GMT
Blair vetoes new Chinook inquiry
Ministers have been accused of a cover-up after Tony Blair vetoed a fresh inquiry into the Chinook helicopter crash.
The Prime Minister faced calls to quash an Royal Air Force inquiry which blamed the pilots for the Mull of Kintyre tragedy after MPs savaged the findings in a damning report.
But a Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair backed Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's view that the "superficial" report contained no new evidence on the RAF's worst peacetime disaster.
Captain John Cook, father of pilot Rick Cook, claimed the reputation of his son and fellow pilot Jonathan Tapper had been sacrificed to cover up the real causes of the crash.
The accident led to the deaths of 29 people, including key figures in Northern Ireland intelligence.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee said there were repeated problems with the aircraft and the pilots should be exonerated.
The MPs accused the MoD of "unwarrantable arrogance" in refusing to acknowledge that the verdict of pilot error was "unsustainable".
He told BBC Radio Scotland: "I have always made it clear, as has the government, that in the event of there being any new evidence we would certainly look afresh at this tragic incident but there is no new evidence in this report.
"The reality is that this was a properly constituted board of inquiry that looked very carefully, indeed exhaustively, at all of the facts and two very experienced RAF officers reached a judgement.
"It seems to me that the only circumstances in which that judgement should be disturbed is if there is relevant new evidence that emerged since their inquiry to challenge the basis of their findings."
The families of the dead pilots, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, have been campaigning to clear their names since the two men were found guilty of "gross negligence".
The Chinook which crashed had just come back into service after a major refit costing more than £140m.
In unusually strong terms, the public accounts committee report said that the refit process was flawed.
A new computer system, Fadec, had been introduced although it had failed British tests, and it was prone to unexplained technical difficulties.
The Chinook ZD-576 went down as it made its way to a security conference in Scotland in what was the RAF's worst peacetime accident.
The committee said it was "impossible" to prove the RAF board's finding that the crash was caused by "gross negligence" on the part of the two pilots.
Mr Hoon also rejected the committee's finding that the MoD was guilty of gross arrogance.
"I do not think that is a helpful way to describe a serious process that was carried out conscientiously to arrive at the facts," he said.
Call to PM
However, Mr Hoon was criticised by Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell, who said the verdict should be overturned.
He said: "The only person who is in a position to right this injustice is the prime minister, and that is who I have asked to step in.
"The families of these two highly intelligent, highly competent and occasionally extremely brave young men are anxious that justice is done."
Captain John Cook met the Mull of Kintyre Group in the House of Commons on Wednesday and the group is due to announce the next stage in its campaign.
'Vindication for us'
The group has backed calls from Captain Cook and Mr Tapper's father, Mike, for the verdict on their sons to be dismissed.
Captain Cook said of the committee's findings: "We've been saying this for six-and-a-half years.
"This is a vindication for us and all those wonderful people who have supported us when they had nothing to gain by doing so."
But the RAF board of inquiry verdict was not backed up by the only independent examination of the facts at a fatal accident inquiry in Paisley.
The campaign to overturn the MoD's findings was also supported by Susan Phoenix, whose husband, Royal Ulster Constabulary counter-terrorism expert Ian, died in the crash.
Mrs Phoenix told BBC Radio Ulster: "All we need is someone with a little bit of confidence and bravery in the MoD to say 'Look a mistake was made. In the light of this new evidence, we have to consider the finding and we will officially set aside the finding of crude negligence'.
"We must remember on a special forces flight there are four crew members.
"There were two pilots and two air load masters who were all highly qualified young men.
"They were not going to fly that Chinook into the side of a mountain without doing something. "When you listen to the inquiry in Paisley, they were fighting to save the lives of our husbands."
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