‘Truth about Mull of Kintrye Chinook may be lost if files destroyed this year’

This year could see the MoD destroying the official files relating to the 1994 Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre, meaning the true cause of the crash may never been known.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 21st January 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:02 pm
All 29 people on board the Chinook helicopter died when it crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994
All 29 people on board the Chinook helicopter died when it crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994

The RAF Chinook helicopter took off from RAF Aldergrove carrying 25 of the most senior members of Northern Ireland’s counter terrorism intelligence community to a conference near Inverness.

Soon after the helicopter crashed in a ball of flames on the Mull of Kintyre, killing all 29 people on board shortly before key peace process negotiations with Sinn Fein.

The MOD has confirmed to the News Letter that all files relating to the crash which were closed in 1995/96 will be reviewed this year for disposal or disclosure under the 30-year rule.

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Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper (left) and Richard Cook, the two the pilots of the RAF Chinook, were initially found guilty of gross negligence regarding the crash in which they were killed. However they were later completely cleared, after a long campaign by their families and supporters. Photo: Chris Bacon/PA Wire

Two RAF air marshals had accused the pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, of gross negligence over the crash. However, after a campaign of almost two decades by supporters to clear their names, a fresh review in 2011 found they 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 in the crash, note that the 2011 review which restored the pilots’ reputations had no remit to inquire into the actual cause of the crash.

Now they are both concerned that internal MoD housekeeping could see a slew of files relating to the crash destroyed this year as a matter of routine, thus ending all hope of getting to the definitive cause of the crash.

Mr Hill, who wrote a book on the crash, Their Greatest Disgrace, said: “This year is the 25th anniversary of the crash and the government said the files would be reviewed for retention.”

Rev Roddy McNidder, a former minister of Southend Church of Scotland on the Mull of Kintyre, expressed grave concern about the possible destruction of MoD records relating to the RAF Chinook crash this year.

Some families are concerned they will be destroyed, he said. “There are many precedents for this. They will argue it is all done and dusted and that they don’t need the documents.”

However, he noted that the 2011 review which cleared the pilots did not conclude what actually caused the crash.

He also suggested that organisations which lost senior personnel in the crash might also want a say in whether the files are destroyed, in particular MI5 and the RUC’s successor, the PSNI.

Dr Phoenix, who co-wrote a book on the affair, ‘Phoenix, Policing The Shadows’, said she still feels that senior RAF and MOD officers “were not brought to account” for their role in the matter.

An Army Chinook helicopter delivers aid to farms in the South Down area of Northern Ireland in 2013

“To quote then defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind after the last [2011] review, he said with foresight: ‘There remain unresolved matters. It is right that these issues should continue to be pressed’.”

She added: “In summary, what we appear to have here, in spite of the renewed good reputations for our Mull of Kintyre Chinook pilots, is a litany of deceit and subterfuge.”

The 2011 review which cleared the pilots was provided with “irrefutable and fully corroborated evidence of systemic failure to implement the airworthiness regulations” she said.

“The outcome was that an unnamed junior squadron leader in legal services was scapegoated,” she said. “What of his right of reply ... if he even exists?”

The MOD has confirmed that many files are due for review this year.

A spokesperson said: “Records that were closed in 1995 and 1996 will be reviewed for release or alternative disposal this year. These reviews have not been completed, and a decision will be made in due course.”

It is understood that all files relating to the 1994 Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash which were closed in 1995 or 1996 will be reviewed this year by the MoD, under the Public Records Act. These files may be destroyed, or if considered to be of public significance, held for release under the 30-year rule, in another five years.

However, as various investigations into the crash took place up until 2011, not all files will be due for review this year. Any files closed after 1995/5 will also be reviewed for destruction or release, 25 years from the date each file was closed, under the same legislation.

Mr Hill believes there was a wide ranging cover-up in relation to the crash.

“I do believe there was a conspiracy – it was a conspiracy to cover up negligence,” he said. That is why he believes that all related MoD files should be preserved and released under the 30 year rule.

He believes the Army was putting “enormous” pressure on the RAF to pass the upgraded Chinook Mk II into active service before it had been properly tested.

Otherwise the RAF faced the threat of the Army wresting control of helicopters away from it, he said.

While aware of the conspiracy theory that the Chinook was deliberately downed by someone, he said there is no evidence to support the idea, while there is substantial evidence that it was not fit to fly.

Rev Roddy McNidder, a former minister of Southend Church of Scotland on the Mull of Kintyre, said the possibility of the destruction of files relating to the Chinook crash is “of grave concern”.

He continues to offer support to the families of those who died.

He said: “The news that the MoD may consider the destruction of the records pertaining to the crash of RAF Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre as the 25th anniversary of that heart-breaking trauma approaches, is of grave concern.

“These records are, and will continue to be, of great significance and ought to be retained as an important legacy resource.

“They have meaning and great personal value to many families and will continue to do so for generations of those affected.

“The timing of this review is very insensitive, and indeed intrusive to families and colleagues of those who died, and one must ask why the need to destroy such a valuable historical record is even being considered?

“Just because one can do a thing, does not mean one ought to. To quote the Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, ‘it is not what a lawyer tells me I may do but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do’.”

When approached by the News Letter, the PSNI did not give any indication of any interest in the survival of MoD files on the matter.

Chief Superintendent David Moore said: “You have raised matters regarding public records legislation concerning the MOD. This is not a matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to comment on.”