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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Service remembers Chinook victims
Crash memorial
A memorial bears the names of those who died in the crash
Relatives have attended a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre.

They laid floral tributes at what the local minister described as "a place of piercing sorrow".

Reverend Martin Forrest said the community shared the families' grief.

Many of Northern Ireland's top security specialists were among the 29 people who died when the aircraft came down en route from Belfast to Inverness.

Campaigners are fighting to clear the pilots of blame for the crash.

About 140 relatives of those who died in the RAF's worst peacetime helicopter disaster attended the 40-minute service on Wednesday.

Memorial service

It was led by Mr Forrest and the Reverend Roddy McNidder, the parish minister at the time of the crash.

Mr Forrest said: "On behalf of the whole community here, we want to say to you that we feel humbled and privileged to be here with you.

"We want to assure you that despite the distance you normally are from this place, the people of this church, of this parish, and of this community are not forgetting you or the people you loved and lost here."

In his prayer he described the site as "a place deep in memories, a place of piercing sorrow".

Mr McNidder read a poem written by the son of one of the victims.

Those at the service also included the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr Alison Elliot, and Paul Leighton, the deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

On the one hand the RAF put aircraft into service that was shown to have many faults... and on the other hand the RAF turned around and blamed to pilots
Mike Tapper
Father of Lt Tapper
Mr Leighton said that he hoped the ceremony would give the families some closure.

On Tuesday, a private service was held at the army's Northern Ireland headquarters in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

The annual service took place at the Mull of Kintyre Memorial Garden at Thiepval Barracks and was attended by relatives and army and police chiefs.

An RAF board of inquiry found nothing to indicate clearly what caused the crash, but its verdict was overturned by two air marshals who reviewed the evidence.

They found flight lieutenants Jonathan Tapper, 30, from Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk, and Richard Cook, 28, from Church Crookham, Hants, guilty of ''gross negligence''.

'Not if, but when'

However, subsequent investigations raised concerns about the airworthiness of the Chinook.

That led to a long-running campaign by the pilots' families, the Church of Scotland and politicians - including former Prime Minister John Major - calling for the men to be exonerated.

Mike Tapper, father of Lt Tapper, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "it is a question of not if, but when" the verdict would be overturned.

Mull of Kintyre crash
The crash scene on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994
He said: "On the one hand the RAF put aircraft into service that was shown to have many faults... and on the other hand the RAF turned around and blamed two pilots."

Mr Tapper accused RAF air marshals of going "beyond their remit" by accusing the pilots of negligence.

He said: "What happened was the board of inquiry came up with a probable cause of the crash, which was the decision of the crew to over fly the Mull of Kintyre.

"The two air marshals reversed that in a sense and said this was definitely the case and accused the two pilots of gross negligence.

"They went much further - beyond their remit."

Major intervention

When asked if the verdict would be overturned, Mr Tapper replied "absolutely, there is no doubt about that".

In an article in The Times newspaper in May, John Major wrote that the 10th anniversary of the crash would be the right time to overturn the verdict.

He wrote: "We may never know what truly caused this tragedy. It follows, therefore, that there is no justification for blaming pilot error."

He added: "We owe justice to the dead. I am not persuaded that they have had it."

The pilots were cleared of blame by a House of Lords committee in 2002, but its findings were not accepted by the government.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Local minister, Reverend Martin Forrest
"We know that for many of you this is not at all easy"



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