Norfolk pilot cleared of Chinook crash blame

A Norfolk pilot falsely blamed for causing the RAF's worst peacetime disaster has been publicly exonerated this afternoon, following a 17-year campaign for justice.

Flt Lt Jonathan Tapper, from Burnham Thorpe, was one of the crew of a Chinook helicopter which crashed in thick fog on the Mull of Kintyre in June 1994, killing 29 people including senior police, army and MI5 officers.

An initial RAF inquiry ruled that both Flt Lt Tapper and his co-pilot Flt Lt Richard Cook were guilty of 'negligence to a gross degree' for flying too low and too fast.

But defence secretary Liam Fox told the House of Commons this afternoon that he had accepted the findings of an independent review, chaired by retired judge Lord Philip, which unanimously found that the conclusion of negligence was 'not sustainable'.

Campaigners including Flt Lt Tapper's father Mike, who lives in Burnham Thorpe near Wells, have always maintained that faults with the Mk2 aircraft could have caused of the crash.

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Mr Fox acknowledged an injustice had taken place and offered a public apology on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. He said discussions about possible compensation would be held at a later date.

'I set up this review in the face of continued criticism of the official conclusion that the accident was caused by negligence to a gross degree and my own fear that an injustice had been done,' said Mr Fox.

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'The review concludes that this finding should be set aside. I hope that this will bring some comfort to the families of the pilots and I would like to apologise on behalf of the MoD for the sorrow which was caused to them by this finding.

'I hope that the conclusion of this review and the action I have taken in response to it will bring an end to this chapter by removing this stain on the reputations of the two pilots.'

Mr Fox said the report did not purport to ascertain the reason for the crash, nor did it give any support to the suggestion of technical failure of the aircraft. He conceded that the exact cause of the disaster may never be known. But he said it was his intention that the review would 'draw a line' under the investigation to prevent further anguish for the families of those lost in the accident.

The initial RAF board of inquiry headed by two air marshals – Sir William Wratten and Sir John Day – found the most probable cause of the crash was the selection of the wrong rate of climb over the Scottish island.

However a Scottish fatal accident inquiry concluded it was impossible to establish the exact cause, while the RAF verdict was also criticised in separate House of Commons and House of Lords committee reports.

Mr Fox said that although the air marshalls were in no doubt that their findings were correct, other 'competent persons' did have doubts, which was enough to warrant the findings be overturned.

?For a full report on the announcement, see tomorrow's Eastern Daily Press.

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