JOHN Major emerges from time to time to make magisterial pronouncements on current affairs. A couple of weeks ago he rather surprisingly wrote a long article in The Times about an event which took place when he was still at Downing Street and which, he said, still haunted him. Ten years ago today an RAF Chinook Mk2 helicopter crashed into the Mull of Kintyre, killing all 29 people on board. It was the RAF's biggest peacetime disaster; the Chinook was carrying 25 senior figures in British intelligence and security. The RAF convened an inquiry which in February 1995 found the two pilots, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, guilty of gross negligence. A verdict of such severity required that there should be absolutely no doubt whatsoever about the finding but it was not long before doubts were raised as to its validity. Subsequent overviews by the RAF questioned the initial inquiry's assumption that the most probable cause of the accident was an inappropriate rate of climb over the Mull, and a fatal accident inquiry by the Paisley Sherrif Court concluded that it was not possible to be certain of the cause of the crash or to attribute blame to the pilots. Futher inquiries by various official bodies into different aspects of the crash have failed to deliver a definitive judgement on its cause or to clear the names of the pilots. What has emerged, however, is doubt about the airworthiness of the Chinook helicopter and the reliability of the information given to the pilots about the bad weather conditions likely to be experienced during the flight.
Saying that we owe justice to the dead, John Major called for the original verdict on the pilots to be set aside.