THE wife of an Iraq war veteran killed in a mid-air RAF jets crash off the Scottish coast has spoken of her relief the Ministry of Defence has admitted liability for the tragedy – paving the way for a massive compensation claim.
Lawyers representing the family of 36-year-old Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey, one of three airmen who died when two Tornado GR4s collided two years ago, said the MoD had admitted “breaching their duty of care”.
The airman had been suffering from a fear of flying in the weeks prior to the incident.
An MoD spokeswoman confirmed it had “accepted liability for the incident”.
Sqn Ldr Bailey’s wife Fiona was formerly a staff member at the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre staff at RAF Kinloss and was stood down from the rescue operation after it was discovered her husband, originally from Nottingham, was one of the missing crew.
She said: “Getting this admission of liability is extremely important to me and our daughter in that my husband’s good name has been maintained and no fault has been attached to his actions in the incident.
“Our lives were devastated back in July 2012 and we have waited a long time to find out exactly what went wrong on that day. We are relieved that we will now finally see some justice for what happened.”
An official probe into the tragedy, published on Monday, found that an onboard collision warning system could have helped prevent the collision between the two ground attack aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth, which were on separate training exercises over the Moray Firth.
The findings of a Military Aviation Authority (MAA) investigation found there were 17 contributory factors to the crash on 3 July, 2012, including the lack of a collision warning system (CWS).
Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole, 28, Flt Lt Adam Sanders, 27, and Sqn Ldr Bailey, all died in the collision. A fourth crewman, Squadron Leader Paul Evans, was badly injured.
The inquiry revealed that Sqn Ldr Bailey, a weapon systems operator, had told bosses he had developed a fear of flying just weeks before the crash.
The report said he warned medical staff that he had reached “crisis point”. He suffered from dizziness, fear of falling, sweaty palms, dry mouth, abdominal discomfort and feeling disabled while flying at medium height, and was also suffering anxiety whilst on the ground, the inquiry found.
He was passed fit to fly despite telling colleagues he felt like he was on a “knife-edge”.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) told military investigators it would not have allowed someone with the same symptoms to fly.
The director-general of the Military Aviation Authority (MAA), which carried out the inquiry, criticised the “inadequate handling” of his condition.
Solicitors firm Irwin Mitchell Scotland, who acts for the serviceman’s wife and daughter, said insurers acting for the MoD have confirmed that they will accept responsibility and were now working on gathering information to bring the case to a conclusion.
Elaine Russell, a partner at the firm, said: “Two years have passed since this tragic incident and now the MoD has admitted that they breached their duty of care to Squadron Leader Bailey who sadly died in the collision.
“We are now gathering further information with a view to settling the cases for his family as quickly as possible to give them closure and allow them to move on with their lives.
“We will also continue to push the MoD on behalf of our other clients involved in this case so that they can also seek justice for their loss.
“It is worrying that the MAA report has been able to identify more than 50 recommendations to prevent future crashes and the families involved are both relieved and angry at the findings in relation to the collision warning system.
“Ms Bailey feels vindicated that her husband was not deemed to be at fault for the crash but is naturally concerned that there were many chances to implement a warning system which may have prevented the accident.
“We now hope the MoD and RAF will take on-board the recommendations in the report as quickly as possible to improve flight safety for our armed forces personnel.”
An MoD spokesperson said: “The purpose of the Service Inquiry was not to attribute blame, but to ensure that we learn lessons from this tragic incident and do whatever we can to prevent it from happening again.
“The MoD has accepted liability for this incident and will continue to liaise closely with the families affected. As this is subject to further legal proceedings it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Westminster SNP Leader Angus Robertson who represents RAF Lossiemouth as Moray MP said: “We need urgent clarification from the Ministry of Defence about liability and responsibility. Three personnel died in the collision, and as we have learnt it could have been avoided had the MOD installed a collision warning system.
“I strongly support a Fatal Accident Inquiry as there is a strong public interest in getting to the bottom of this whole tragedy.”
Irwin Mitchell Scotland is also representing 17 victims of the Clutha helicopter crash in Glasgow last year and successfully acted on behalf of the families of victims of a Nimrod aircraft accident which ran to full civil jury trials against the MOD in 2011 and resulted in the highest ever damages awarded for a bereavement in Scotland.