The families of four RAF crewmen killed and injured in a mid-air Tornado collision off the Highlands were last night given fresh hope of a public inquiry being held into the tragedy.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead, who has campaigned for a Fatal Accident Inquiry since the 2012 crash, is to meet the Crown Office’s head of Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit to seek a review of its decision not to hold an open court hearing.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe, in an exclusive interview with The Press and Journal, yesterday confirmed that high-level talks will now take place to discuss the issue – with campaigners hoping it will lead to a spectacular U-turn.
RAF Lossiemouth Squadron Leader Sam Bailey, Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole and Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders were all killed when the two GR4 jets crashed into one another seven nautical miles south-east of Helmsdale, Sutherland, at about 920ft.
Squadron Leader Paul Evans suffered serious injuries.
An official Military Aviation Authority (MAA) probe indicated the tragedy could have been avoided if the aircraft involved had been fitted with a collision warning system (CWS).
In 2015, the Crown Office decided not to hold a public inquiry on the grounds the MAA investigation was more wide-ranging than an FAI.
But yesterday, the Lord Advocate said: “I have had correspondence from Richard Lochhead about the case. The head of Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit has offered a meeting to Mr Lochhead to discuss the issues he has raised.”
Mr Lochhead said: “Our meeting with the Crown Office will provide us with a long-awaited opportunity to persuade the Lord Advocate to reconsider the case for an FAI that is open and transparent.
“Compared to the inquiry by the MAA, an FAI in Scotland can bring additional examination of the causes of the crash and focus on the public interest.
“My constituent Jimmy Jones – a retired RAF officer – has tenaciously pursued this issue with the support of the families and the new evidence that he believes justifies the Lord Advocate reconsidering the case for an FAI deserves the utmost consideration.
“This was a terrible tragedy and the families and everyone affected need to know that all the relevant issues are out in the open and such an outcome would also be in the public interest.”
Mr Jones said last night: “The families are delighted at this latest news.”
He said that a dossier of new evidence had recently been compiled, adding: “In total the dossier lists some 20 items of new evidence. The new evidence focuses on the lack of independence of the Service Inquiry, flawed risk assessment, public interest concerns, and safety failings relating to a critical safety item, namely the ejection seat.
“Service Inquiries are convened by the head of the MAA. Their function is to determine the cause of the accident and not cause of death – that is the function of an FAI. They are not carried out in open court, and families are not involved.”
The MAA inquiry found 17 contributory factors led to the collision, including the failure to fit a collision warning system (CWS) in the jets and the lack of an effective care plan for Sqn Ldr Baily, who had developed a fear of flying at certain heights.
A spokesman for the MoD, which accepted liability, insisted that upgrading Typhoon jets, many of which now fly out of RAF Lossiemouth, with CWS “remains a priority”.