Voice recordings from fatal Gillingham helicopter crash will remain confidential

The scene of the helicopter crash at Gillingham.

The scene of the helicopter crash at Gillingham. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Voice and data recordings from a Norfolk helicopter crash which killed four people will remain confidential, the High Court has ruled.

Conservative peer Lord Ballyedmond - Edward Haughey - was among those killed when the helicopter crashed in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, in March 2014.

It also claimed the lives of Declan Small, 42, of Mayobridge, County Down, pilot Carl Dickerson, 36, of Thornton, Lancashire, and co-pilot Lee Hoyle, 45, of Macclesfield, Cheshire.

During an inquest earlier this year, where the jury returned accidental death verdicts, Senior Norfolk Coroner Jacqueline Lake demanded disclosure of the helicopter's cockpit voice and data recorder.

She said the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) should provide a full transcript of what was said by those in the helicopter.

But the AAIB refused to comply and the coroner issued two £100 fines against the body's chief inspector.

In a test case today, senior judges ruled that the coroner had no power to order disclosure of the contents of the helicopter's 'black box'.

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Mr Justice Singh said only the High Court had the right to take that step.

The court heard that material gathered by the AAIB during its inquiries is usually kept confidential and protected from disclosure to ensure that evidence can be given freely to the AAIB, without concern that it will end up forming part of a police or other inquiry.

Mrs Lake's lawyers said it was her duty to fully investigate the circumstances in which four people died.

They said it was important for the inquest to have access to contemporaneous records of what happened.

Mr Justice Singh said: 'The coroner's functions are of obvious public importance in this country and have a long pedigree'.

But he said there was no public interest in the coroner going over the same ground as the AAIB.

He said: 'The inquests in this case have already been concluded and there is no question of re-opening them.'

The judicial review challenge was upheld and the disclosure orders and fines were overturned.