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Last Updated: Monday, 7 June, 2004, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Anger over MoD's crash findings
by Nic Rigby
BBC News Online

Mull of Kintyre crash
The crash scene on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994
You can hear the anger of former Air Commodore John Blakeley in his voice.

He is fed up with the way the Ministry of Defence continue to hold two pilots to blame for the crash of a Chinook helicopter 10 years ago.

Air Cmdr Blakeley, the most senior RAF engineering officer to raise concerns on the Mull of Kintyre crash, believes the MoD is covering up the truth.

His own report on the crash, made public last week, points the cause of the crash towards mechanical failure.

Speaking to BBC News Online from his home in north Norfolk, he said: "I think that my investigation shows a technical failure is at least as likely as a very late decision to over-fly the Mull (the basis of the finding blaming the pilots) as this would have been tantamount to a suicide note from all three of the crew."

The Blakeley Report findings:
Air Commodore Blakeley
The RAF appeared to make an "immediate presumption" of pilot error after the accident
The first inquiry failed to address some "very basic and very difficult to answer question on the airworthiness" of the Chinook Mk 2
Questions why the RAF were operating the Mk 2 "at all at this time"
Finds it incredible that the RAF made "no serious attempt to see if a technical problem could have fitted the same accident scenario".

An RAF board of inquiry found flight lieutenants Jonathan Tapper, 30, from Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk, and Richard Cook, 28, from Church Crookham, Hampshire, guilty of ''gross negligence''.

However, subsequent investigations into the crash, which claimed 29 lives including many top Government Northern Ireland security specialists, 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.

Now Air Cmdr Blakeley's report, commissioned by Mike Tapper, Flt Lt Tapper's father, casts further doubt on the MoD's position.

He said: "The pilots were flying an aircraft they did not want to fly and did not trust. The pilots had asked to fly a Mark 1 Chinook.

John Major
John Major: "No justification for blaming pilot error"

"It was refused to them, and in correct RAF fashion the pilots accepted their flying duties.

"They were given the Mark 2 to fly with all its known problems, despite the fact that its airworthiness, both as part of a fleet and as an individual aircraft, were almost certainly nowhere near the civil standards that should have been applied to what was a civil passenger flight.

"The fact that MoD's own flight test authority had 'grounded' the Chinook Mk 2 only adds to the sense of unease and injustice.

"If it is a question of cock-up or conspiracy, I think MoD's continuing refusal to recognise the findings of so many other organizations and reports such as mine now make it a cover-up.

"Maybe the real negligence was higher up in the MoD in letting the RAF continue to operate the aircraft at all, but this was an area that the original Board was kept well clear of in its investigations despite the many misgivings expressed by expert witnesses."

Tony Blair
Campaigners hope to meet the Prime Minister Tony Blair

He called for the MoD to clear the pilots' names or hold an independent public inquiry into the issue, and allow the pilots to be defended.

Mr Tapper told BBC News Online that campaigners to clear the pilots' names hoped soon to meet with the Prime Minister Tony Blair to put their case.

He said: "There can't be anyone in the country who believes that the pilots were guilty apart from the MoD. The families of those killed must ask: How was that aircraft allowed up in the air?"

He added: "And if the pilot weren't to blame, who was?"

Mr Tapper, who last week attended a memorial service on the Mull to those killed in the crash, paid tribute to the support from the public and the Church of Scotland over the nine year campaign.

A spokeswoman for the MoD said it had reviewed Air Cmdr Blakeley's report and other technical reports, but has "found nothing to undermine" the original inquiry's finding.

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