AN MP backing a campaign to clear the names of the two RAF Odiham pilots blamed for the 1994 Chinook helicopter crash in Scotland has issued an apology to the Ministry of Defence.

"I have made a mistake and it is a serious one," said James Arbuthnot, MP for Hampshire North-East.

"In a recent statement to the local press about the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash, I said something about Sir John Day, the Air Marshal who, with Sir William Wratten, found the two pilots guilty of gross negligence. I thought at the time the statement was true but I now find it was not.

"What I said was he had brought the Chinook into service and had provided that one helicopter for that fateful flight.

"I have seen a letter to the local papers from the Ministry of Defence which makes plain that I was wrong on both counts.

"He has not asked me to apologise to him for this, but it is clear to me that I should, for this reason.

"The implication that I drew from what I thought was his involvement was that Sir John Day had an interest in saying the pilots were to blame. I withdraw that implication, which was unfair, and apologise to him. Having heard these assertions made I should have checked them directly with him."

Flt-Lts Rick Cook, of Church Crookham, and Jonathan Tapper, from Norfolk, have been blamed for the Mull of Kintyre crash — the RAF's worst peacetime accident, in which 25 senior anti-terrorist officers died.

Mr Arbuthnot, a former defence procurement minister, said he will continue the fight to clear the dead pilots' names.

"I continue in the view that the pilots were unjustly accused of negligence and that, as the House of Lords Select Committee and numerous other bodies have found, we simply do not know, and probably never will, exactly what happened in that crash."