The new Moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly has said he hopes a great injustice will be resolved after the Ministry of Defence said it is considering reviewing the findings on a 1994 RAF Chinook crash which blamed the two pilots of gross negligence.
All 29 people on board died in the crash on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June that year. Among the passengers were almost all the United Kingdom's senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts at the time.
The Rt Rev John Christie said he hoped any new possible enquiry would clear the names of Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Tapper and Flight Lieutenant Richard Cook, who were initially cleared of blame by an RAF board of inquiry.
A section of the statement from the Kirk Church and Nation committee relating to the issue was approved by the General Assembly in 2004. It “re-iterate[d] the pastoral concern of the Church for the families of the victims, and renew[ed] the call to the Ministry of Defence to reconsider the judgement of “gross negligence” on the pilots of the aircraft.”
Mr Christie said: “I wholeheartedly support this [statement]. I understand that there were serious questions raised about the computer control system at the time and if there is any doubt about that, it seems to me that the pilots could not be found guilty of gross negligence or held responsible for the accident.”
But an official RAF inquiry into the incident concluded the Chinook Mark 2 helicopter was airworthy and found the pilots guilty of gross negligence.
However, three subsequent enquiries have found the cause of the crash on the western coast of Scotland was inconclusive.
Mr Christie said: “The Church of Scotland initially became involved through pastoral concern for human beings and grieving families. Through moments of prayer on a bleak hillside, through memorial services and anniversaries, those relationships between the families and the people of Argyll have endured for all these years.
“The Church of Scotland initially became involved through pastoral care for strangers but they have become our friends. In the years since the crash, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has developed a strong sense that we must stand with the grieving families and speak out against the injustice done to these young pilots.
“For all these years, the families of the pilots and many others have fought to clear the names of the pilots, on the grounds that the available evidence is not enough to justify a verdict of negligence, let alone that of gross negligence.
“It is almost inconceivable now that it has been nearly 16-years since the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre. And to think that after all that time, still the families of the victims are unable to properly move on because of what they see as a gross injustice. I sincerely hope that the Ministry of Defence does review the findings of the inquiry and while I cannot predict what that outcome will be, I hope that a great injustice can be set right. We will continue to stand alongside the families until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.”
The Conservative Party said while it was in opposition that it would, if in power, seek an independent review of the evidence.
The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, a Conservative, confirmed at the end of last week that the Ministry of Defence is looking at the best way to undertake a review of the evidence.