Norfolk pilot could be cleared of Chinook crash blame

A Norfolk pilot blamed for causing the RAF's worst peacetime disaster is expected to be exonerated by an independent inquiry report this week.

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 'gross negligence' for flying too low and too fast.

But a subsequent Scottish fatal accident inquiry and three parliamentary inquiries were all inconclusive, and internal MoD documents emerged last year describing the aircraft's engine control software as 'positively dangerous'.

A new independent review, chaired by retired judge Lord Philip, is believed to have made its report to defence secretary Liam Fox, who is due to make a public announcement in the House of Commons this week.


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And the BBC has reported that the findings will conclude the pilots should not have been blamed.

An MoD spokesman has refused to confirm the report, and said it would be 'inappropriate' to comment before the announcement was made to parliament.

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

But Mr Tapper last night also declined to comment until the inquiry's findings were formally released.

SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: 'I hope that these reports are accurate. It is time that justice was done, and the defence secretary must finally clear the pilots of any blame.

'In light of Lord Philip's recommendations and given that the initial RAF internal finding, the Fatal Accident Inquiry, and a House of Lords report all concluding that there was no evidence that the pilots were to blame, the position of the MoD is now untenable.

'It is a disgrace the way the families of Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook have been treated by successive administrations and it's time that the record was officially set straight.'

In April, it emerged that defence chiefs had cast doubts over the safety of Chinook helicopters two years before the crash.

An apparently previously undisclosed report from 1992 suggested there were official concerns over the airworthiness of the RAF's fleet which had not been considered in the four previous inquiries into the crash.

The papers said a Chinook Airworthiness Review Team had identified five accidents in six years and 'serious incidents', including uncommanded flying control movements, which 'brought into question' the effectiveness of the fleet.

The report concerned the Mk1 model of the aircraft, but says the issues concern 'both present HC Mk1 and the future HC Mk2 version'.

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