A House of Lords committee concluded in February that the RAF should not have blamed Fl Lts Rick Cook, 28, who lived in Church Crookham, and Jonathan Tapper, 30, from Norfolk, for the Mull of Kintyre crash — the RAF's worst peacetime accident in which 25 senior anti-terrorist officers died.

But on July 22 defence secretary Geoff Hoon refused to reverse the earlier ruling, saying the Ministry of Defence "notes the report, but does not accept its conclusion".

An initial RAF internal inquiry ruled that it was impossible to establish the cause of the crash but said there were no "human failings".

That was overturned by Air Vice-Marshal Sir John Day and Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten, who found the pilots guilty of gross negligence — flying too fast and too low for the conditions — even though guidelines said such a verdict should only be returned when there was "absolutely no doubt".

The government's refusal to reverse the earlier ruling has angered relatives of the crew.

Fl Lt Cook's father John, a former Concorde pilot of Gally Hill Road, Church Crookham, said: "I got sent the 26-page response and it's absolutely pathetic. In fact it's disgraceful.

"It's taken five months to respond using the same old arguments that just do not stand up.

"It's the same old assumptions and absolutely no facts.

"The response was extremely disappointing but we will go on. The next step is the debate in the House of Lords in October.

"Lord Jauncey, chairman of the select committee, will be leading the debate. He is hopping mad that they took so long to respond anyway.

"The problem is that Blair and Hoon have supported this argument by the Ministry of Defence and air marshals and they in turn have flouted first the law and now the Lords.

"It has become a constitutional problem made worse by the fact that Blair and Hoon are lawyers."

Fleet MP James Arbuthnot, a former defence procurement minister who has been fighting to clear the dead pilots' names, said: "I am extremely sad that the Secretary of State passed up the chance to heal a wound that had been damaging and diminishing the Ministry of Defence for years.

"He could have reversed a great injustice and in doing so would have done the right thing.

"Instead he chose to go along with his advisers and his suppliers.

"He relied on the advice of Sir John Day. But Day was the man who had brought the Chinook Mark II into service, the man who had provided that one helicopter for that fateful flight, the man who had then overruled his own board of inquiry.

"Day had an interest in saying the pilots were to blame.

"And the Secretary of State relied on Boeing. Boeing had made the aircraft and been sued once by the Ministry of Defence for its shortcomings.

"Boeing had an interest in saying the pilots were to blame, so the decision by the Ministry of Defence may be greeted with contempt but not surprise.

"Over the summer we shall need to take stock, before the autumn debate in the House of Lords, to decide what steps need to be taken next.

"And one thing is certain. The Ministry's decision is not an end of the matter. Injustice does not just go away.

"However long it takes, it requires to be put right. And one of these days, it will be."