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Coroner attacks RAF's systemic failures over deaths of 10 RAF men.

A CATALOGUE of "systemic failures" contributed to the deaths of 10 men when a Special Forces Hercules aircraft was shot down in Iraq, a coroner ruled yesterday.

The two month inquest heard how the Ministry of Defence and RAF ignored decades of recommendations to fit ESF (explosion suppressant foam), a key safety feature on Hercules C130s.

This was "a serious systemic failure and, accordingly, a contributory factor in the loss of the aircraft," Wiltshire Coroner David Masters said in his narrative verdict.

He also said a failure to communicate intelligence about the enemy contributed to the deaths.

The families of the victims said afterwards their loved ones had been let down by an RAF that "failed to protect our boys".

Barrister John Cooper, representing three families, said they were "carefully considering their options" regarding civil action.

Had Hercules flight XV179 had ESF fitted in the wing-located fuel tanks, one in the right wing may not have exploded when hit by enemy fire on January 30 2005, the hearing at Trowbridge, Wilts, heard.

"Never again should a scientific report be ignored," said the coroner.

It was explicitly detailed in a 2002 Tactical Analysis Team (TAT) report that ESF be fitted to Hercules.

This came after a series of research papers throughout the 1990s warning of possible wing tank explosions Mr Masters said a "systemic failure of communication was also a contributory factor in the loss of the aircraft".

Those aboard the XV179 were unaware when they flew from Baghdad to Balad that just three hours earlier two US Blackhawk helicopters had been shot at by insurgents in the same area, the inquest heard.

UK intelligence officers did not pass on this information to XV179 because they did not even know the plane was there. because it was an RAF 47 Squadron Special Forces flight, the details of which were not known by other military personnel.

This meant the doomed aircraft flew straight into a known ambush. In emotional scenes after the inquest, the families criticised the failures.

Pauline Stead, mother of XV179's captain, David Stead, said: "We are truly disappointed that the RAF failed to protect our boys."

CAPTION(S):

Families of the 10 men listen as RAF Lyneham station commander Group Captain Mike Neville reads a statement. From left, Pauline, who lost her son David Stead, Sarah Chapman, who lost her brother Bob O'Connor, and Liz Jones, who lost her son Steven: A Hercules C130 of 24 Sqn
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 23, 2008
Words:408
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