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Mull of Kintyre Review

Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2011

I wish to announce the publication today of the Mull of Kintyre review, the report of the independent review of the evidence relating to the findings of the board of inquiry into the fatal accident of an RAF Chinook helicopter at the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994. It is right that I should begin this statement by paying tribute to the 29 people who died in that accident, one of the worst in the history of the Royal Air Force. As is well known, the passengers were members of the Northern Ireland security and intelligence community who were travelling to a meeting in Inverness, and their deaths were a huge blow to the security of this country. They were also a human tragedy for each of the 29 families who were devastated by the loss of their loved ones.

I pledged while in opposition that I would set up a review, because I had worries that an injustice might have been done. The official conclusion that the accident was caused by the negligence to a gross degree of the two pilots on duty that day, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, had been criticised almost since the day it was reached. Doubt had been cast on the findings in different ways by the fatal accident review held in 1995, by the Defence Committee and the Public Accounts Committee of the House in 1998 and 2000, and by the Select Committee appointed in another place in 2002.

A number of Members of the House have continued to voice their doubts over the findings of gross negligence, and I wish to acknowledge the unflagging interest in the case shown by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), my right hon. Friends the Members for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) and others, and also by Sir John Major. I know that the Ministry of Defence considered those reports carefully, taking independent and specialist advice, but given the weight and breadth of the comments, I thought it only right to ask an independent figure to check whether justice had been done.

I announced the establishment of the review—the first independent review of the evidence relating to the accident set up by the Government themselves—to the House on 16 September last year. It was my intention that its report, whatever its findings might be, should draw a line under this matter. It has been carried out by the distinguished former Scottish judge, Lord Philip, with the advice and support of a panel of three fellow Privy Counsellors, my noble Friend Lord Forsyth, Baroness Liddell and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce). I am extremely grateful to all four for their thorough and painstaking approach to the task and for the clarity with which they have presented their recommendations, which are unanimous. I held them all in high regard before, and hold them in higher regard now.

Lord Philip and his colleagues have concluded that the finding that the pilots were negligent to a gross degree should be set aside and that the Ministry of Defence should consider offering an apology to the families of Flight Lieutenants Tapper and Cook. I can tell the House that I have accepted these recommendations. At a specially convened meeting of the Defence Council on Monday it was decided that

“the Reviewing Officers’ conclusions that Flight Lieutenants Tapper and Cook were negligent to a gross degree are no longer sustainable and must therefore be set aside. We therefore order that those findings shall be set aside”.

I have written to the widows of the two pilots, to the father of Jonathan Tapper and to the brother of Richard Cook to express the Ministry of Defence’s apology for the distress caused by the findings of negligence. I also wish to express that apology publicly in the House today.

Lord Philip’s analysis is very clear. To put it as briefly as I can, he identifies the central point as being that, according to the regulations in force at the time, a finding of negligence should have been made against air crew who had been killed in an accident only if there was “absolutely no doubt whatsoever” about the matter. Although the two air chief marshals who acted as reviewing officers for the board of inquiry and made the findings had no doubts on the matter, Lord Philip is clear that that is not enough. The question that should have been asked is whether there was any scope for doubt in anyone’s mind. In this case, other competent persons did have doubts, which is sufficient to warrant the conclusion that the findings should not stand.

I would like briefly to make four further points. First, the report does not purport to tell us exactly why Chinook ZD576 crashed. It is central to Lord Philip’s report that the exact cause will never be established, and I am convinced that pursuing the matter further would serve only to increase the distress of the families and friends of those who died in the accident. But those who allege that there has been a long-running conspiracy to cover up technical shortcomings in the aircraft will find no support here. The Chinook has had an excellent safety record since the disaster on the Mull. It has been a mainstay of our operations in successive theatres of war and has the full confidence of those who fly it. However, the report reveals that on this occasion the pilot expressed concerns that he felt unprepared to fly the aircraft.

Secondly, I want to emphasise that the air chief marshals who made the decision, Sir John Day and Sir William Wratten, who are now retired, were and are highly respected and experienced airmen who acted at all times with full conviction on what was the right and proper course and in good faith. They did not reach their decision lightly and they asked for legal advice. Regrettably, that legal advice, although subsequently endorsed by independent Queen’s counsel, has now proved to be incorrect. I attach no personal blame to these distinguished officers and their advisers.

Thirdly, the procedures for investigating air and other military accidents were changed some years ago, with the result that it is no longer the practice for boards of inquiry, now called service inquiries, to ascribe blame to those involved, whether or not they survived the accident. This is because sometimes the business of ascribing blame can get in the way of finding out what actually happened and, more importantly, preventing any recurrence.

Fourthly, the report makes one further recommendation: that the Ministry of Defence should reconsider its policy and procedures for the transport of personnel whose responsibilities are vital to national security. I accept that recommendation as well. It has implications for land and sea transport as well as air transport. I have directed my officials to ensure that the policy and procedures in place across all three services ensure that we do not unnecessarily risk so many individuals who are vital to national security in one vehicle. It is worth noting that Flight Lieutenant Tapper had asked for the passengers on the Chinook to be split between more than one helicopter.

This has been an unhappy affair that has caused much reflection within the RAF and anguish for the families of those who died, particularly the families of those who were wrongly found officially to have been negligent to a gross degree. I hope that this report and the action I have taken in response to it will bring to an end this sad chapter by removing the stain on the reputations of the two pilots.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, join him in his moving tribute to the 29 people who died in this terrible incident and add our continuing condolences to their families. I also join him in offering our support to this unanimous report and the work carried out by Lord Philip, Lord Forsyth, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and my noble Friend Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke.

It is over such tragic and controversial events that the whole House should unite to ensure that the right outcome is found in the interests of service personnel, past and present, and their families. It is in our collective interest to establish as much as we can about what happened on 2 June 1994, to learn the right lessons for the Ministry of Defence and the RAF and to come to a settled view for the families of all of those who perished on the Mull of Kintyre. The Secretary of State has my full support in his work towards these objectives.

Successive Secretaries of State, initially Conservative and then Labour, decided to follow the findings of gross negligence produced by the two senior air marshals, Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten and Air Vice-Marshal Sir John Day. Their view, as the Secretary of State has suggested, overturned the original opinion of the RAF board of inquiry, which had found no evidence to suggest that either pilot was negligent. For gross negligence to be proven, the Queen’s regulations for the RAF state that

“only in cases in which there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever should deceased air crew be found negligent”.

It is a remarkably clear definition, and the contents of today’s report reveal that that test has not been met at any point since 1994.

No one doubts that all those involved in the inquiry acted in good faith, but it is now clear that the two air marshals initially sought, and were given, inadequate legal assistance in their interpretation of the standard of proof. I do not enjoy saying this, but it now also appears that Secretaries of State of both Governments were kept in the dark on differences between the board and the reviewing officers and that Ministers were deprived of the ability to reach a properly informed view. Investigations by the Public Accounts Committee in November 2000 and by a House of Lords Select Committee in November 2001 found that the reviewing officers of the board of inquiry were not justified in attributing gross negligence to the Chinook pilots because the findings did not satisfy the burden of proof required. It is important that in 2001 the board of inquiry rules were changed to ensure that no deceased pilot could ever be found negligent in this way again.

Let me turn to the wider lessons and ask the Secretary of State five specific questions arising from his welcome statement. First, he said that

“the report reveals that…the pilot expressed concerns that he felt unprepared to fly the aircraft”.

Will he tell the House how this matter was dealt with at the time by officers involved? Secondly, what issues surrounding compensation for the families of the deceased arise from the report? Thirdly, and I put this gently, the content of today’s announcement was trailed in the media at the weekend, days before Parliament had a chance to see it. Does the Secretary of State intend to carry out any inquiry on the possible leak of some of the contents of today’s report? Fourthly, and more substantially, did Lord Philip’s review find fault with the board of inquiry’s process, and should the make-up of boards of inquiry be changed to remove the perceived conflict of interest identified by the Public Accounts Committee in its previous report? Fifthly, the Secretary of State rightly said that he had written to the relatives of the two pilots, but have the contents of the report been shared with the families of the others who perished on the Mull of Kintyre?

In conclusion, I have said before at the Dispatch Box, and will continue to do so, that when the Government do the right thing they will rightly enjoy our support. Today, in the interests of all the families involved, the right thing is being done and lessons have to be learnt. We fully support what the Secretary of State has said today.

I am extremely grateful for what the shadow Secretary of State has said and the tone in which he presented it to the House.

When we look at the experience under previous Secretaries of State, we see that the inquiries that took place were perhaps not quite focusing on the correct point. In Lord Philip’s inquiry, he very quickly, with his team, went to the point of the matter on a legal basis—that is, as the shadow Secretary of State has said, they grasped that attributing gross negligence could be done only if there was no doubt. This was not about establishing something beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the test that most of us would expect normally to be applied—it was an absolutely objective test. Perhaps in previous inquiries we were looking into the details and missing the main point.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of very reasonable questions. In answer to his specific question about how the matter was handled at the time, I refer him to paragraph 7.2.2 of the report, which says:

“We were told that Flt Lt Tapper telephoned his Deputy Flight Commander on the evening before the delivery of ZD576 to Northern Ireland expressing concern that some time had passed since his conversion training. He felt unprepared to fly the aircraft. He had attempted to persuade the tasking authority to spread the load between more than one aircraft, but his request had been refused.”

Yes, there will be questions of compensation arising. I spoke today to some of the families involved, but I did not feel that today was the appropriate time to be talking about money when there are very serious points of principle and we are opening up a very difficult emotional period for the families. However, we will undoubtedly take this forward in the usual way with those families.

As regards details appearing in the media, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that very many of those were completely wrong. I suspect that people were making educated guesses that turned out to be not so educated.

Finally, neither Lord Philip nor his team criticised the initial board of inquiry. The problem came with the reviewing officers who attributed gross negligence when the board of inquiry had not come to a specific conclusion about who or what was to blame for the crash.

As Secretary of State for Defence at the time of the Chinook accident, and having given evidence to the Philip inquiry, may I say that I am delighted and relieved that this decision has been announced by the Secretary of State? It is a decision that is right, that is necessary, and that is long overdue. As the Royal Air Force decided some years ago that it was not going to continue to try to assess questions of negligence in its own internal inquiries because that was much more appropriately a matter for the courts of law, is it not very sad that the RAF and, indeed, the Ministry of Defence, despite changing their own procedures and despite the mounting evidence from many authoritative inquiries, have chosen to resist for 16 long years the annulment of this injustice, which arose out of these very procedures?

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his thanks for the decision that has been made. It is right, I think, that the RAF took the decision that questions of negligence and blame should be set aside in order to try to get to the truth of the cause of any particular accidents. It is very regrettable that it has taken such a long time to get to the situation today. However, it is none the less a tribute to many Members in this House who have felt that an injustice was being done. It shows the House of Commons at its best when pressure from the House of Commons can cause an injustice to be overturned.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on showing the guts to get his Department’s public stance to where justice demanded it should have been for many a year? While he has naturally concentrated on the families of the two pilots, 27 other families are also involved. Will he think of ways in which the views of this House might be conveyed to them as well?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We have tried to share some of this process with those families. I understand that for many of them this will have been a difficult reopening of a sad and painful process. I hope, however, that although it has been reopened, we have, with the conclusions that we have come to today, given them proper closure by reaching a just and equitable verdict.

May I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend and Lord Philip and his team for putting right an injustice that has lasted for far too long? May I add that the air marshals who did the reviewing and who overturned the original finding, while they were quite wrong in their decision, are nevertheless wholly honourable men who were doing what they believed was right on the basis of the legal advice that they were given? Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that a massive contribution to this famous victory was made by people such as Brian Dixon and Tony Collins of Computer Weekly and David Harrison of Channel 4, the noble Lord O’Neill, and people from both sides of this House and of another place in contributing to the notion that justice should finally be done and closure should arrive?

I entirely agree that the air marshals concerned did what they believed to be right. They followed their consciences. They are fine, decent and honourable men. They were, in my view, not correctly informed about the law and the rules that applied at the time. Given that there were, I imagine, a number of legal personnel who took a contrary view, it is a shame that it has taken so long for that view to be brought to light, and I am grateful to Lord Philip for achieving that. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that there are many beyond this House who have sought resolution in this case for a very long time. They played an important part in keeping the issue alive for long enough for justice to be done. It does not matter how long it takes; it matters that it is done in the end.

Order. This is a hugely important and sensitive matter both for the families concerned and for the country as a whole, but I must remind the House that there is heavy pressure on time. I appeal to colleagues to ask short questions, and I know that the Secretary of State will provide characteristically short replies.

I give an unqualified welcome to the inquiry conclusions and hope that this finally provides natural justice to the Cook and Tapper families. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the inquiry had available to it all relevant documents, including the Chinook airworthiness review team report? May I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who said in opposition that he would seek to right this wrong? He has done just that, and he deserves praise and recognition for doing so.

I am grateful for that. On a day when so many elements of public life are being torn down, it is perhaps useful that we have an example of where the House can come together and where, when we say one thing in opposition, it actually happens in government.

I confirm to the hon. Gentleman that all the documents that Lord Philip and his team asked to see were made available. In fact, when the report was presented to me I checked again that they had been given access to any material that they had sought and were able to speak to any individuals they had wanted to see. I understand that the report that he mentions refers to the Mark 1, not the Mark 2, and so it would have been less relevant in this case, but none the less it was released and made available to the inquiry.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and his unqualified apology to the House. Having been a member of the team, I also thank Lord Philip for the way in which he conducted the inquiry, for the advice that he gave, and for the fact that we had a collective but unanimous decision. The standard of proof was designed for a layman and is clear beyond any doubt whatsoever, and yet the legal advice given to the air marshals was that it meant whatever the RAF wished it to mean, which is not a standard of legal advice that anyone in this House would recognise. Will the Secretary of State conclude that we will never know what happened on the Chinook, but the families should now have comfort that the matter can be put to rest?

I reiterate my great thanks to my right hon. Friend for the work that he has done. The conclusions that he has stated are correct. All I would say is that in producing this report we seem to have created a crack team, and I am sure that Governments with inquiries in future will take note of that.

May I equally thank the Secretary of State and compliment him on correcting this wrong?

I have to say that my recollection, having sat on the Select Committee along with my friend the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), is not as kind towards the air marshals as what has been said today. The truth is that they did not have any evidence on which to come up with the decision that they did, and they laid their decision on legal advice. The families of those two pilots were right to expect that two air marshals would know better and not rely on a decision by lawyers. The two pilots have been scapegoated for all these years, and respective Defence Ministers and the officials in the Ministry of Defence have run away from this for all these years. The House is indebted to the Secretary of State for having corrected this wrong, but we cannot correct the wrong without pointing out that the two air marshals were a serious part of the problem.

In fairness, the board of inquiry said that the most likely cause of the crash was pilot error, but it did not attribute blame. The air marshals used their experience and intuition to make a judgment based on the board of inquiry’s findings. Lord Philip and his team found that they were not able to do that based on the level of evidence required to attribute negligence in the way that they did.

Order. As I look for a single-sentence question, I feel sure that the test will be met by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis).

I am not sure that I can meet that expectation, Mr Speaker, but I will do my best. Part of the problem arises from the clash between the demands for justice and for a solution that prevents an accident from happening again. The Secretary of State appears to have solved the justice problem for the future with a change to the rules on the attribution of blame. One of the problems was that there was no black box in this aircraft. Will he ensure that all RAF aircraft will in future have black boxes so that we will know the cause of any crash?

Yes. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and long-standing campaigning on this issue. I have checked that we are now fitting black boxes routinely on all Chinooks. I can confirm that to my right hon. Friend.

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his personal dedication to and interest in this matter, and to his party and his coalition partners for putting the issue in their manifestos. Does this not send out a message to anyone who is fighting injustice that if they persevere and continue to push their case, they will eventually, if they are right, see justice?

I of course agree with the hon. Lady. There are a lot of downsides to being a Member of Parliament, but one upside is the ability to see justice done and a wrong righted.

If Parliament exists for the redress of grievance, today is a most eloquent illustration of that principle. My right hon. Friend deserves great credit for taking the decision that he has announced, and for the nature of the apology he has offered to the families, with whom I have been in contact over many years in relation to this campaign. I have always been impressed by their steadfast determination and dignity. Does my right hon. Friend understand that satisfaction at the outcome today is tempered by dismay that the original decision turned on legal advice that was palpably and self-evidently wrong?

What I find somewhat difficult, having looked back at the various inquiries, is that nobody seemed to focus on the quality of the legal advice given at the time to the reviewing officers. There was a lot of focus on what happened on the ground and on the condition of the aircraft. Nobody seemed to focus on this essential point, which seems to be where the injustice emanated from.

The Chinook helicopter crash in the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 was, as the Secretary of State said in his statement, one of the worst in the history of the Royal Air Force. Of course, it was also the worst accident in the history of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with 10 of its noble officers being killed. May I take this opportunity to say to the Secretary of State, his colleagues and the House that the widows of those RUC officers will be absolutely delighted and hugely relieved that the terrible stigma of gross negligence is today lifted from those two brave and courageous young pilots?

Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a modern day version of the famous Archer-Shee case, which involved the Royal Navy and the theft of a postal order, and which became the basis of a famous play in which the service would not admit that it was wrong? Will he add to his list of people who should be thanked the right hon. Lord Chalfont, who more than a decade ago instituted a debate that focused on the very point that the Secretary of State has emphasised today? Finally, does he share my regret that some close family members of the pilots are no longer alive to get the vindication that they deserved more than a decade ago?

This may well be a modern version of “The Winslow Boy”. It is not the size of the injustice that matters, but the fact that it is an injustice. I commend Lord Chalfont for what he did on this matter, just as I thank many colleagues in the other place who have done so much to keep this case alive.

I would like to add my thanks to the Secretary of State for overturning in such a contrite and decent way what was a personal slight on the lives of two pilots and a slight on the entire system. He mentioned in his statement that the Ministry of Defence should reconsider its transport arrangements for senior intelligence personnel. We lost 10 gallant officers that evening on the Mull of Kintyre who could have changed the face of the troubles, and indeed shortened the troubles by up to 10 years. That human intelligence source was lost. That must not happen again because of travel arrangements. The Secretary of State is reconsidering the policy. Can he assure us that it will be changed forthwith?

I have made it very clear that I accept the recommendation and that change will follow. We will review all current procedures. There is no doubt that that procedure was dangerous and wrong, to the detriment of this country’s security. We saw a similar phenomenon recently with the Polish Government. It does not make sense for any country to allow that amount of its national investment to be in any one vehicle, be it on the ground or in the air.

The military covenant was betrayed in this case, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing some redress. What will he do to ensure that the quality of legal advice, which is still relevant in Iraq and Afghanistan where there have been issues over such advice, is improved so that we do not see a repeat of this sort of thing?

It is impossible to guarantee that the advice from any one human being will be perfect. We therefore need to look constantly at the quality of advice and at the sources of that advice, and to ensure that it is spread widely enough to minimise the inevitable risk of human error.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I hope that it will bring comfort to all the families concerned. Surely it should have been common sense after the accident that there should have been no repetition of vital personnel being transported in such a way. Is the Secretary of State aware of instances where that reoccurred after the accident and where personnel vital to our national security were carried as one group?

I am not aware of a specific instance. I think that this tragedy brought home the risk of doing that. Whether or not it has happened in the past, it will not happen in the future.

Three of the colonels on board the Chinook that day were friends of mine. One of them, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Gregory-Smith, a commander of intelligence in Northern Ireland, was the godfather of my first son. Does the Secretary of State agree that the families have shown huge dignity and great courage in the years since 1994?

I think that the families have shown calmness, dignity, great strength and great courage. I hope they feel today that all of that has been vindicated.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I sympathise with and convey my condolences to the 29 families who lost loved ones on 2 June 1994. That was some three months before the first IRA ceasefire. Will the Secretary of State undertake to write to all the families to convey the information in today’s report, which has been accepted by himself and the Government? Will he also indicate why the 1992 inquiry into the effectiveness of Chinooks was not taken into consideration?

As I said, all documents were made available to the inquiry by Lord Philip and his team. They were able to take into account anything that they wanted. The documents were all made available to them, and they subsequently had a look at the document to which the hon. Lady refers. I will certainly ensure that all the families of the deceased get not only a full copy of the report but a copy of what has been said in the House today, which I am sure they will find extremely reassuring.

I welcome the Ministry of Defence’s apology today, which is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the families and the many campaigners, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who have campaigned for it. However, it is well over a decade since the erroneous advice was given to the air marshals. What can the Government now do to ensure that it never takes so long again to overturn something that has turned out to be palpably incorrect?

I think we need to begin such a process by dealing with any such issue with a clean sheet of paper and a clear mind. The advantage of what Lord Philip and his team have done is that they were hugely objective. They had no preconceived view, nor did they have any knowledge in detail of the events that they were looking into. That in itself was a huge advantage in allowing them to see the details that needed to be seen that had perhaps been overlooked before.

Today’s statement represents the successful persistence of many right hon. and hon. Members. It also represents the success of common sense over legal advice—but to be longer lasting, it must represent a new chapter in how we conduct such inquiries in future. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State confirming that new standards and new ways of conducting such inquiries will be in place for the future?

The hon. Lady raises a very interesting point, and it is one that I raised with Lord Philip and his team. Given that I think there is wide acceptance in the House that they came to a conclusion that had been missed too often by previous inquiries, the question is: why? I have asked Lord Philip whether he would mind setting out why he thought this particular inquiry had worked, and, from his perspective and that of his team, why they thought they were able to get at the kernel of truth that was missed so many times in the past. Looking at their methods, and how they went about drawing up their report, would be hugely instructive and helpful as a template for similar inquiries in the future.

May I add my tributes to those given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other hon. Members? I want to return, if I may, to the legal advice that forms the basis of the report. It appears that the conclusions of the original legal advice were obviously and palpably wrong. I quite understand that my right hon. Friend cannot give assurances about the quality of future advice, but there appears to have been a culture within the Department of seeking to defend the indefensible on the basis of something that was absolutely and obviously wrong, and he can give assurances about that culture. Will he assure the House that he will investigate that culture, see whether it existed and deal with it?

I hope that we have shown by our very approach to this subject that we are willing to do so. I was not willing to accept an assurance that everything had been checked and everything was fine, which was why we set up this inquiry in the first place. Too many experienced people in the House had spoken to me as we all discussed the matter and said that they felt intuitively unhappy and worried that an injustice had happened. It says a lot for Members of Parliament that when they intuitively felt that uncomfortable, we did not simply accept what had gone before but sought to take an independent and rigorous view of how it should be addressed.

Does the Secretary of State propose to review not just the methodology of transportation but the purpose of moving such a large number of personnel?

It is of course perfectly reasonable to have large collections of those with the appropriate expertise when necessary, but it is also incumbent upon those who organise such events to ask whether they really need to have so many personnel with that level of knowledge in one place, especially with modern electronic communication capabilities.

I know personally that RAF Chinook pilots are highly skilled, highly professional and of the highest integrity. In Afghanistan today, Chinook pilots will be putting their lives at risk, and the Secretary of State’s statement today will be widely welcomed by them.

I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend, as he is the father of one such brave Chinook pilot, who deserves praise as one of the very large number on whom so much of our national security depends.

I thank the Minister for his statement and for the report. I have had the occasion over the years to meet some of the families who lost loved ones. We certainly sympathise greatly with them, and I agree with his sentiments about them. Can the Secretary of State confirm that each of the families who have lost loved ones, who have waited for so long—17 years—for a conclusion to this saga and this tragedy will have all the conclusions and recommendations of the report made available directly to them, so that they can in some way have some closure?

As I said, I intend that not only a full copy of the report, with all its recommendations, but a copy of what has been said in the House today will be available to all those families, so that they can see the redress of the injustice, what we have done to investigate the issue fully and the warm and welcome words of Members on both sides of the House.

This was a terrible tragedy that took place in my constituency, and it was made all the worse for the relatives by their long 17-year wait for the announcement that we have heard today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on establishing the review board, and I congratulate its members and all those who have campaigned for so many years to overturn the unjust verdict. What procedures are in place so that if in future a verdict is subject to so much challenge, including by a fatal accident inquiry, it can be reviewed much more quickly?

As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), we set up a mechanism that seemed to be effective, that was relatively quick and that was able to identify the weakness that previous inquiries had failed to identify. As a House, we should look to see why it was effective when others were not, and learn from that procedure.

I welcome the outcome of the inquiry and commend the Secretary of State and the Government for the actions that they have taken in bringing long-awaited vindication to the families concerned. The Secretary of State has said that we will never know the cause of the disaster. However, he also said that two requests were made by Flight Lieutenant Tapper and refused. Is he satisfied that such requests are, and indeed were, given full consideration, and would be in future?

It is impossible for me to say how much consideration was given to a particular request so many years ago, but I would hope that if a pilot expressed worry about his lack, or perceived lack, of experience in such a mission, that would be dealt with sympathetically by those in command.

May I say finally that I am sure the families themselves, whom I met before the statement today, will be very grateful to all Members for their warm words and for the way in which they have welcomed this report today?