A former defence secretary and other defence experts at Westminster normally relied on to support the MoD have returned to the fray to repeat their call for the verdict of gross negligence against the pilots of Chinook ZD576 to be overturned. I had a ringside seat to observe the first top level reaction to the crash in June 1994. That day the Prime Minister John Major had come into BBC Westminster to take part in an Election Call phone-in for the European Parliament elections the following week. Looking ashen, he asked to use my office to make phone call and asked if I knew anybody on board. I replied yes, I had met some of them and told him to dial 9 to get out. I remember thinking how odd it was that the PM had to use my phone to communicate. I could only assume that as the BBC Westminster studios are only just round the corner from No 10, his secure comms people hadnt bothered to come. Hard to imagine that happening today. Malcolm Rifkind, the defence secretary at the time, makes the telling point today that as MoD inquiries now leave gross negligence verdicts to the courts, only bureaucratic stubbornness and lack of ministerial will prevents this one being reopened. Pilot error cant be ruled out but nor should software failure. From such an establishment man as Rifkind, his reluctant conclusion is compelling, that the RAF are covering up their huge embarrassment by excluding the technical report revealed today. Why do ministers uninvolved at the time tamely go along with this these days? I only guess that as ministers and service chiefs have so many other controversial issues dividing them – equipment shortages including Chinooks in Afghanistan and Nimrod failures in Iraq among them – they prefer to keep this one buried in history. Yet it persistently returns to haunt them. The instinct of the defence establishment to blame those lower down the line when theyre under pressure to deliver was exposed in the Nimrod inquiry and is a deplorable failure to live up to their own command responsibilities.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London