Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash: Church of Scotland votes against destruction of MoD records

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has unanimously backed a motion calling on the MoD to ensure that all records relating to the 1994 Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash are protected from destruction.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 12:21 pm

The crash saw the cream of Northern Ireland’s counter terrorism intelligence officials die during a critical time in the peace process, as they flew to a meeting in Scotland.

A total of 29 people died after the aircraft, which was on its way from RAF Aldergrove near Belfast to Inverness, crashed in a ball of flames. Those killed included senior army and RUC intelligence officers.

Some of the families are concerned that no inquiry has ever given a cause for the crash.

A Memorial Service at the headquarters of 38 (Irish) Brigade on 2 June 2014 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre in which 29 people died. At the Mull of Kintyre Memorial Garden in Lisburn representatives from several of the families took part in a private ceremony alongside senior representatives of the military and MOD civilians. The service was conducted by Reverent Doctor David Coulter, Deputy Chaplain General and by Father Michael Fava, Senior Chaplain to 38 (Irish) Brigade. The names of those who died were read out by Lt Colonel Nick Ilic and a wreath laid by Brigadier Ralph Woodisse, Commander of 38 (Irish) Brigade.

Some 750 elders and minister from across the church voiced unanimous support for the motion at the church’s annual General Assembly on Wednesday.

The strength of feeling was such that there no need to make use of the church’s normal electronic voting system.

Very Rev Dr Alan McDonald told the General Assembly that the Ministry of Defence had confirmed that records closed in 1995 and 1996 “will be reviewed for release or alternative disposal this year”.

The pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, were accused of gross negligence over the crash.

Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper (left) and Richard Cook, the two the pilots on the ill-fated RAF Chinook. They were initially found negligent but a later inquiry cleared their names. However no formal cause of crash has ever been pursued. Photo: Chris Bacon/PA Wire

In 2003, the General Assembly called on the Ministry of Defence to “revisit” the tragedy while Jonathan Tapper’s father, Michael, watched from the public gallery.

Dr McDonald, who was convener of the Church and Nation committee at the time, said the families of the victims felt “encouraged and supported” after the Kirk took up their case.

A fresh review was ordered and in 2011 found that the pilots should not have been blamed and the earlier ruling was set aside.

But David Hill, a retired MOD helicopter engineer and Dr Susan Phoenix, whose husband RUC Det Supt Ian Phoenix was killed, recently spoke out in the News Letter, highlighting that the review had no remit to inquire into the actual cause of the crash, thus putting the issue back on the political agenda.

Dr McDonald, who lives in Cromarty in the Highlands, told the General Assembly that the response from the church on Mull of Kintyre and nationally was “much, much appreciated” by the families.

“It is widely recognised that this friendship and wider pastoral care has continued over the past 25 years,” he added.

“It has helped to offer strength and encouragement, no more so when the General Assembly of 2003 unanimously approved a deliverance supporting the families.

“Family members were present on that occasion and were so grateful that the Church had heard their voices at a time when they thought they had been forgotten by everyone.

“As we approach the 25th anniversary, I am sure those families would want to know that we still keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

He said the Ministry of Defence is reviewing the records of the accident on the Mull of Kintyre, whether they should be retained or deleted.

“The families are once more feeling very vulnerable and their voices are being ignored again,” he said.

“Because of everything that has happened to them over the years, the families simply do not want these records to be deleted.

“Their preference is that the records are kept in a safe place where they can be easily assessed from now on.”

Dr McDonald, who was Moderator in 2006-07 and used to lead St Leonard’s Parish Church in St Andrews in Fife, said family members have expressed a hope that the Church of Scotland will “once again” speak out for them.

“They believe that we will do this because the Church of Scotland was there on the Mull of Kintyre when the families could not be there,” he added.

Dr Alison Elliot, the first female Moderator of the General Assembly, spoke out in support for the call.

She took part in a memorial service on Mull of Kintyre in 2004 to mark the 10th anniversary of the crash.

Dr Elliot said there was still a question mark over the circumstances of the accident that has never been satisfactorily resolved.

She said it is a “constant companion” for the victim’s families.

Dr Elliot said: “For their sake and ours too, it is important to preserve the records that we have.”

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council, said members “whole heartedly” support the call.

Recalled the General Assembly debate in 2003, he said: “There was an enormous amount of pressure by the Ministry of Defence at the time, suggesting that our persistence in pursuing the truth of this was only extending and exacerbating the grief of families.

“The way in which the Church has stood by these families is a cause to be proud and grateful.”

The News Letter is asking the MoD for comment.