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Hopes for victory in pilot case

PUBLISHED: 14:07 16 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:47 06 July 2010

FAMILIES of two pilots blamed for what was labelled Britain's worst peace-time disaster could finally win their fight for justice.

The Norfolk family of Flt Lt Jonathan Tapper has been fighting for 14 years to clear his name after he was found guilty of gross negligence after the Chinook he was flying crashed, killing all 29 on board.

FAMILIES of two pilots blamed for what was labelled Britain's worst peace-time disaster could finally win their fight for justice.

The Norfolk family of Flt Lt Jonathan Tapper has been fighting for 14 years to clear his name after he was found guilty of gross negligence after the Chinook he was flying crashed, killing all 29 on board.

They have gone through a string of inquiries and select committees, and even the Church of Scotland has pleaded with the Ministry of Defence to overturn the ruling.

The MoD has been accused of “unwarranted arrogance” for sticking to its verdict on the crash.

But now lawyers have put together a new report, containing legal argument and new evidence, which they hope will clear the names of Flt Lt Tapper, 30, and his co-pilot Flt Lt Richard Cook, 28, from Hampshire.

It was handed to defence secretary Des Browne by senior Labour peer Lord Martin O'Neill of Clackmannon, a member of the Mull of Kintyre Group, named after where the aircraft crashed.

Speaking from his home in Burnham Thorpe, Flt Lt Tapper's father Mike Tapper said the family was cautiously optimistic.

“There have been three bids at this, the fatal accident inquiry in Scotland in 1996, then the public accounts committee, both of which found against the MoD and for the pilots.

“The House of Lords select committee found the air marshals didn't have a case. And that was responded to by the MoD and we have now responded to that response. This is presenting the legal case as we have seen it.”

All 29 people on the helicopter, including 25 leading figures involved in Northern Ireland security, were killed when it crashed into the Scottish island in bad weather on June 2, 1994.

Campaigners have long argued that problems with the Chinook's engine control software could have been a factor in the crash.

Lord O'Neill said: “It is quite a substantial document we have placed in his hands and it is important for the standing of the RAF and the families involved.”

He said they hoped the document would make the MoD reconsider the grounds on which evidence was considered at the time and challenge the level of burden of proof used.

“We don't think that was ever satisfactorily addressed from the outset.”

“The MoD has always maintained they would need to have new evidence presented to them.

“We think we have been able to discover evidence not available to the Board of Inquiry that might challenge the thinking of the MoD and enable the secretary of state to reopen the inquiry or set aside the original decision.

“A great deal of effort by the families and a group of researchers and a legal team which has volunteered its services pro bono has been put into this.”

Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, said: “I have always maintained that there have been very serious oversights in the whole process and that there was quite a lot of technical evidence not considered by the Board of Inquiry.

“We are talking about two young pilots who were doing their level best and had impeccable records. Their families have suffered their names being tarnished by the air marshals' findings.

“It is a great opportunity for moving forward and securing closure on a very tragic loss.”

While there is new evidence in the report, Mr Tapper said the basis of the submission was legal.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “It is brilliant that Des Browne is willing to reconsider this matter, which is clearly seen by most members of the military flying community as a gross miscarriage of justice. It is long past time that we exonerated these brave young men and removed any doubt over their skill and their character.”

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