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Church backs copter pilots

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to clear the names of two RAF Odiham pilots blamed for the Scottish Chinook tragedy are celebrating an important verdict.

On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the helicopter crash the influential Church of Scotland General Assembly has called on the government to review the case.

The Mull of Kintyre crash — the country’s worst peacetime military air accident — killed 25 leading members of the Northern Ireland security forces and four crew, including Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, whose father lives in Church Crookham.

An RAF Board of Inquiry reported inconclusively on the cause of the crash.

But two Air Marshals overturned the inquiry’s findings and charged the two dead pilots with responsibility for the crash through gross negligence.

Generated by concern for the families of all those killed in the crash, the motion to the Church’s General Assembly noted the four major inquiries into the accident, which have all judged the Air Marshals’ decision to find the pilots guilty unsound.

The most recent, by the House of Lords Select Committee, concluded unanimously that the Air Marshals were not justified in finding that pilot negligence caused the crash.

But in November last year the government whipped the debate on the Select Committee’s report and defeated a motion to overturn the verdict against the pilots and finally clear their names.

Fleet MP James Arbuthnot, chairman of the cross-party Mull of Kintyre Group, said he was delighted with the General Assembly’s decision.

Shortly after the crash, when serving as a Tory Defence Minister, he became convinced that a grave miscarriage of justice occurred in the condemnation of the pilots.

He publicly apologised during a June 2000 debate for supporting the original RAF Board of Inquiry and has worked ever since to help clear the pilots’ names.

“The Church of Scotland has transformed the debate about the Chinook crash,” said Mr Arbuthnot.

“The Ministry of Defence may have thought it was all over but the Church of Scotland has proved that it is not, and that a gross injustice does not just go away but will keep coming back until it is put right.

“The debate in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was a milestone in the campaign to clear the names of the dead pilots.

“No member of that General Assembly dissented, they all stood in their places to record their support for the motion that the government should reconsider its rejection of the Lords Select Committee’s findings.

“I have spoken to the fathers of the pilots and they were evidently moved by the support they received.

“Let us remember that the issue is whether or not there was any doubt about the pilots being negligent.

“Several highly reputable bodies, now including the Church of Scotland, have expressed their deep unhappiness with the MoD’s obduracy.

“It is time the MoD recognised reality and understood that this injustice must be put right.

“The campaign will not stop until it is.”

Flt Lt Cook’s father John, an RAF veteran and former Concorde pilot of Gally Hill Road, was also delighted with the decision.

“I am told that for the first time in the General Assembly’s history they were unanimous in their support for a motion.

“There were about 600 people there who stood up and cheered.

“This is not going to move the MoD but it’s yet another pressure on the government.

“The decision shows we are active again.”


Charlotte Neal
Chief Reporter (Aldershot)
Joshua Smith
Farnborough Reporter
Jon Couch
Sport Editor
Stephen Lloyd
Fleet & Yateley Reporter
Ros Collins
Junior News & Mail
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