Shoreham Airshow inquest: ‘Alarm bells ringing’ as families denied access to evidence

Families of victims of the Shoreham Airshow disaster risk going into the inquest ‘blind’ without seeing protected evidence, their lawyer has argued.

Thursday, 25th June 2020, 4:21 pm

At a pre-inquest review yesterday (June 24), Gerard Forlin QC said ‘alarm bells were ringing quite violently’ over evidence seen by pilot Andy Hill and the Air Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB), but not the families.

“I would submit that it’s too early to narrow down the scope of the inquest this early but we simply do not know what’s out there,” he said.

“How many more types of documents are out there that the families have a right to see?”

The Shoreham Aircrash memorial on the banks of the River Adur

Mr Forlin argued an independent expert should look at the evidence held by the AAIB, including dash cam footage of the 2015 crash in which 11 men lost their lives, to decide if it should be made public.

West Sussex Senior Coroner Penelope Schofield said she understood the families’ frustrations, but until she had decided what specific ground the inquest would cover there was no need to release some protected evidence.

Ms Schofield also responded to queries over her decision not to sit with a jury during the inquest, which is planned for September next year.

In February, she said last year’s criminal trial in front of a jury made a second assembly at the inquest unnecessary.

Prior to yesterday’s pre-inquest review, Captain Steven Colman – a Crawley-based pilot with 36 years’ experience in commercial and private aviation – had argued a jury is needed for full scrutiny.

In particular, the 64-year-old said a jury would allow for the role of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as a safety regulator to be better scrutinised.

“I don’t accept that the CAA are not being held to account more fully,” he said. “They are not beyond reproach. I am convinced that, had they investigated previous near misses more fully, Shoreham may not have occurred.”

Capt Colman argued the coroner was legally obliged to sit with a jury under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, as the airshow was a ‘notifiable accident’ investigated by an official Government body.

While a jury at the criminal trial may have absolved pilot Andy Hill of any wrongdoing, said Capt Colman, it had not determined the accountability of the CAA.

Ms Schofield maintained the criminal trial meant a jury was not mandatory and added the families had failed to reach a consensus over whether one was needed, leaving the decision at her discretion.

A detailed account of the rationale behind the decision to not sit with a jury has been added to the public inquest documents, she said.

A spokesman for the CAA said the thoughts of the authority were with the victims’ family and friends, and it would work with Ms Schofield during preparations for the inquest, which has been pushed back to September next year due to the coronavirus.

“We are fully committed to all air shows taking place safely for the six million people who attend them each year in the UK, and for the communities in which they take place,” said the spokesman.

“Following the accident, a number of investigations, reviews and changes to regulations aimed at preventing any further similar accident took place. This included an immediate Civil Aviation Authority review of airshow safety and an Air Accidents Investigation Branch investigation.

“The changes made as a direct consequence of those investigations and reviews have all been completed and the Civil Aviation Authority continues to monitor the safety of civil air displays in the UK.”

The AAIB opted not to reopen its investigation into the airshow disaster as part of the inquest.

The CAA is conducting its own investigation into the disaster to assess whether any regulatory changes were required to prevent a similar tragedy, which it said was on target to be completed by September.

A date for the next pre-inquest review has yet to be agreed.

Eleven men lost their lives when a Hawker Hunter jet crashed during a display at the airshow on the afternoon of Saturday, August 22, 2015. They were: Maurice Abrahams, 76, of Brighton, Dylan Archer, 42, of Brighton, Anthony Brightwell, 53, of Hove, Matthew Grimstone, 23, of Brighton, Matthew Jones, 24, of Littlehampton, James Graham Mallinson, 72, of Newick, Daniele Polito, 23, of Goring, Mark Reeves, 53, of Seaford, Jacob Schilt, 23, of Brighton, Richard Smith, 26, of Hove, and Mark Trussler, 54, of Worthing.