27.03.11

An RAF officer faces court martial over Nimrod deaths

 

A senior RAF officer could face court martial over the death of 14 servicemen who died when a Nimrod spy plane burst into flames over Afghanistan.

The Bureau has learned that Air Commodore George Baber, responsible for the safety of the RAF Nimrod, which crashed on September 2, 2006, now faces the threat of a two-year jail sentence as military investigators concluded there is sufficient evidence to charge him.

Our latest investigation, which is published in the Sunday Times, reveals they are set to refer the case to prosecutors.

RAF Nimrod Aircraft - Flickr/Defence Images

Fourteen servicemen, based at RAF Kinloss in Moray, died when the aircraft — XV230 — blew up after air-to-air refuelling, when leaking fuel made contact with a hot air pipe.

Their widows won £15m in compensation from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after a prolonged legal battle.

This weekend, families of the victims welcomed the move. Graham Knight, 59, from Somerset, whose son Benjamin was among those killed, said: “I hope this prosecution goes ahead. Action needs to be taken. Fourteen men died and not one man or company has been brought to book. One man is better than none, but what about the others involved?”

Baber, a group captain before the crash and who was responsible for fleet safety along with Wing Commander Michael Eagles, was later promoted.

Baber and Eagles have been under investigation by the Royal Air Force’s Special Investigations Branch (SPA) at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire since December 2009. Both men were named in a report by Charles Haddon-Cave QC in October 2009. It said the crash occurred because of a “systemic breach” of the military covenant, the nation’s duty of care to the armed forces.

Baber will face a court martial if the SPA decides to press charges. Eagles is still under investigation.

Baber retired from the RAF in January but he could still face a court martial if the military prosecutors decide to press charges within six months.

The Haddon-Cave Review accused the MoD of sacrificing safety to cut costs. Charles Haddon-Cave QC described the Nimrod safety case (NSC) – an assessment to identify and mitigate hazards – as “a lamentable job from start to finish” and “riddled with errors,” Mr Haddon-Cave said. “It missed the key dangers. Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency, and cynicism.”

At the time of the review the then defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth told the Commons the two officers had been moved to staff posts which held no responsibility for safety.

Baber led the MoD integrated project team responsible for a safety review of the RAF’s Nimrods, which took place between 2001 and 2005. Mr Haddon-Cave accused him of failing “to make safety his first priority.”

Eagles, who was in charge of managing production of the safety review delegated the project “wholesale” to a MoD civilian worker who was too inexperienced and not competent enough to manage it, the report found.

A MoD Spokesperson said: “The investigation is ongoing and we are unable to comment further on these matters at present.”

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