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Last Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
RAF widow hits out at 'cutbacks'
Steve Beattie
Flight Sergeant Beattie was highly regarded

The widow of one of 14 men killed when an RAF Nimrod aircraft crashed in Afghanistan believes defence cutbacks are putting lives at risk.

Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, a father-of-two from Moray, died when the aircraft exploded in September.

His wife Shona said he could not remember the last time he flew a plane "with all the parts working".

The MoD said Nimrods were maintained to highest standards and the maintenance budget had risen by 50% in two years.

Mrs Beattie claimed cutbacks had been particularly felt among ground crew.

Shona Beattie
I find it very difficult to accept I have lost all, and my children have lost a father, because of a technical fault
Shona Beattie

Twelve Kinloss-based airmen, a Royal Marine and a soldier died after a suspected technical fault.

Inquests into the deaths are to be held by the Oxford Coroner under English law.

Flt Sgt Beattie, who was born in Dundee and brought up in Perthshire, was the only Scot aboard the Nimrod surveillance aircraft.

Mrs Beattie and their children, Bethany and Cameron, live in Forres, Moray, a few miles from where he was stationed at RAF Kinloss.

She told the BBC: "I find it very difficult to accept I have lost all, and my children have lost a father, because of a technical fault."

RAF aircraft
The bodies were flown to RAF Kinloss for a ceremony

Mrs Beattie said cutting back on the armed forces was a mistake.

"The ministerial powers-that-be make these decisions especially on safety terms, but there is something seriously wrong here," she said.

"All I can remember is Steve coming in in the summer-time and saying 'I cannot remember Shona the last time I have taken off on a plane with all the parts working'.

"They have cut back, cut back, ground crew especially and, you know, they've got to listen to this.

"Obviously if you have 10 men on a job as opposed to 20 you are going to have different outcome."

The Nimrod MR2 has been a very successful aircraft, with an excellent safety record
Air Vice-Marshal Ian McNicoll
Air Officer Commanding 2 Group

Air Vice-Marshal Ian McNicoll said the loss of the Nimrod MR2 was desperately sad news and the RAF's priority was to support the families and loved ones of the aircrew who lost their lives.

He added: "At this stage, the indications are that the accident was caused by a technical failure, but we must wait for the Board of Inquiry to report.

"The Nimrod MR2 has been a very successful aircraft, with an excellent safety record. It is maintained to the highest standards by dedicated RAF ground crews.

"Over the past two years, we have increased the amount spent on Nimrod aircraft maintenance by 50%, from 2m to 3m per aircraft per year."

Flt Sgt Beattie joined the RAF in July 1982 and had served as an air electronics operator, instructor and in the intelligence section.

A tribute written for a ceremony at RAF Kinloss described him as "fiercely committed", "courageous" and "highly respected".

The 13 other victims were: Flt Lt Steven Johnson, Flt Lt Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, Flt Lt Allan James Squires, Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, Flt Sgt Gary Wayne Andrews, Flt Sgt Gerard Martin Bell, Flt Sgt Adrian Davies, Sgt Benjamin James Knight, Sgt John Joseph Langton and Sgt Gary Paul Quilliam.

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