Highlands & Islands

No inquiry into Tornado crash deaths

Airmen (from left) Sqd Ldr Samuel Bailey, Flt Lt Hywel Poole and Flt Lt Adam Sanders Image copyright MOD
Image caption Airmen (from left) Sqn Ldr Samuel Bailey, Flt Lt Hywel Poole and Flt Lt Adam Sanders died in the crash

A fatal accident inquiry will not be held into a collision between two RAF Tornado GR4 jets three years ago, the Crown Office has said.

Three airmen were killed and another seriously injured when the aircraft collided over the Moray Firth in northern Scotland.

The planes from 15 (Reserve) Sqn at RAF Lossiemouth, in Moray, crashed into the sea during a training flight.

The families of the victims said they were disappointed by the decision.

Each of the Tornados had two crew members on board when they crashed in July 2012.

Flt Lt Hywel Poole, 28, who was born in Menai Bridge on Anglesey in north Wales, died in hospital after being airlifted from the scene.

'Totally mystified'

Sqn Ldr Samuel Bailey, 36, from Nottingham, and Flt Lt Adam Sanders, 27, who grew up in Lancashire, were also killed.

A fourth RAF serviceman, Sqd Ldr Paul Evans, survived but was badly injured.

SNP MP Angus Robertson has also said he was extremely disappointed by the decision.

Mr Robertson, who represents Moray at Westminster, had been calling for an inquiry.

He said: "I am totally mystified why there won't be a fatal accident inquiry. There are critical outstanding questions about Tornado safety and the delayed collision warning system.

"The MoD failed in its duty of care towards the RAF personnel involved in the Tornado collision. I believe they, their families and colleagues deserved better and a proper inquiry."


Analysis

Tim Reid, BBC Scotland political correspondent

It's the decision which campaigners have fought for many months to persuade the Crown Office against. And they are hugely disappointed.

They concede that the Military Aviation Authority report detailed the cause and lessons to be learned.

But they also argue that there are still many questions to answer in addition to the failure by the MoD to fit a collision warning system, a decision essentially made on cost grounds.

They question the accountability of senior officers who said the aircraft was safe to fly when some of the warnings contained in the MAA report suggest otherwise.

Campaigners also link this accident with many which preceded it, like the RAF Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre and the RAF Nimrod accident in Afghanistan where warning signs were ignored.

They also criticise what they believe is a loophole in the law in Scotland which means that fatal accident inquiries are not held there into RAF accidents, when inquests would be held in England.

While the RAF insists that a new collision warning system is being fitted to Tornados - it's only been installed on a handful of jets so far and doesn't yet work.

So while the MoD insists that it is committed to flight safety, its critics are not fully convinced.


The Crown Office said the incident had been the subject of a "very detailed" report following an investigation by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA).

All of the 42 recommendations in the MAA report have been accepted by the Ministry of Defence and were in the process of being implemented, including installation of collision warning systems, the Crown Office said.

It said the purpose of an FAI was to set out in law to establish the cause of death and ensure that lessons are learned for the future.

In a statement, the Crown Office said: "After thorough consideration of the circumstances of the case, Crown Counsel have concluded that all the relevant issues have been comprehensively examined in the course of the Military Aviation Authority report and could not have been better considered in any FAI."

The Crown Office said an FAI "would only duplicate the months of thorough work undertaken by the Military Air Accident Investigation Branch and the Military Aviation Authority in preparing the Service Inquiry".

'Broader questions'

It added: "As a result, Crown Counsel have instructed that no FAI is to be held."

David Bell, a lawyer representing the families, said: "Whilst we accept that the service inquiry report does identify the immediate causes of the accident, there are many questions about how and why many of those causes arose, which need to be answered.

"If a fatal accident inquiry is not to be held, those broader questions should be addressed by a public inquiry.

"The families of victims of the crash need answers as to how this crash occurred and want reassurances that any wider issues will be identified and resolved to prevent the risk of other similar accidents in future.

"Without the appropriate inquiry, it is difficult to see how lessons will be learned."

In January, the MoD came under renewed fire over its efforts to install safety equipment on RAF jets after the department confirmed to the SNP that only eight of the RAF's fleet of 100 Tornado GR4s had been fitted with a collision warning system.

Responding to the Crown Office announcement, an MoD spokesman said: "The Ministry of Defence has provided all information requested by Scotland's Crown Counsel in their consideration of this matter and has assisted fully during the completion of a comprehensive Service Inquiry, the thoroughness of which was one of the main factors in the Scottish government's decision not to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry.

"The Service inquiry made 42 recommendations, all of which have been implemented, including the ongoing introduction of a collision avoidance system to Tornado GR4 aircraft which will be another tool for aircrew to use.

"This is the first time such a system has been fitted to an existing combat fast jet anywhere in the world."

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