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'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 28 October 2009

MOD accused of sacrificing safety to cut costs in Nimrod crash report

The title above summarises briefly the findings of Charles Haddon-Cave QC in his report on the crash in Afghanistan in September 2006 of a Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, with the loss of 14 lives.

Mr Haddon-Cave, speaking of Air Commodore Baber, who led the MoD integrated project team responsible for a safety review of the RAF's Nimrods, which took place between 2001 and 2005, said:

"He failed to give the NSC (Nimrod safety case) the priority it deserved. In doing so, he failed, in truth, to make safety his first priority."

Speaking of a safety review of the ageing Nimrod MR2 a year before the crash, carried out by the MoD, BAE and QinetiQ, he said it was a "lamentable job" which failed to identify "key dangers" and is quoted further as saying:

"Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency and cynicism. The best opportunity to prevent the accident to XV230 was tragically lost."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, who has already apologised to victims' families and repeated his apology in the House of Commons today, said:

"On behalf of the MoD and the Royal Air Force, I would like again to say sorry to all the families who lost loved ones.

"I am sorry for the mistakes that have been made and the lives that have been lost as a result of our failure. Nothing I can say or do will bring these men back."

The report is, to put it mildly, a damning inditement both of the Ministry of Defence and civilian contracting companies as well as government policy. It is telling that the Defence Minister does not even try to deny his government's ultimate responsibility. Speaking to the House of Commons today he is further quoted as saying:

"The subtitle of this report, 'A failure of leadership, culture and priorities', is a stark judgement.

"Mr Haddon-Cave has been critical of both the MoD and our industrial partners at both organisation and individual level.

"Mr Haddon-Cave also states that in our pursuit of financial savings the MoD and RAF allowed their focus on safety to suffer.

"As a department we have a duty to continue to seek efficiencies in how we deliver defence. However, I am absolutely clear that this must not be done with any detriment to safety."

He further promised to do "everything in my power" to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

Quite how much it is in his power to prevent a recurrence of this kind of incident is open to question; the person who is currently our Prime Minister was for most of Labour's current period in power our unprecedentedly powerful and influential Chancellor of the Exchequer and it is inconceivable to me that he was not intimately involved with the budgetary constraints within which the Ministry of Defence was obliged to operate. Indeed if I have one [indirect] criticism of Mr Haddon-Cave's report it is that whilst it has undoubtedly and correctly high-lighted major areas of concern with how the Ministry of Defence and its civilian contractors dealt with matters of operational safety it of necessity (probably) leaves out - at least in the reports I have read so far - any criticism of the makers of the policy under which the MoD had to operate, in other words the Government. For it is the Government which controls the purse-strings and if we are being told that the MoD was being encouraged to make stringent financial economies (see Mr Ainsworth's remarks as quoted in the box immediately above) then it seems to me that those who were enforcing such economies upon them cannot escape closer scrutiny. It may be that some relatively lowly, but at least in theory technically-skilled, individuals within the RAF, BAE Systems and QinetiQ will lose their jobs, but will they be mere foils or 'scape-goats' to shield the real culprits within the political decision-makers and budget-setters, the Government? Time will tell, but let's just wait and see whether anyone within Government is thrown overboard in the wake of this devastating report. Call me a cynic if you like ...

My blog article about the accident in September 2006 is here; it is pleasing, but at the same time upsetting, that the shock I felt then has now been answered with this no-holds-barred report from an individual who merits high respect and whose analysis seems not to be in question. A full copy in .PDF format of his report is available from a link on this page.

Mr Haddon-Cave has an uncommon name, but it is funnily enough not one unfamiliar to me. His biography is here and it makes interesting reading. The name I am more familiar with though is that of Sir Charles Philip Haddon-Cave, who was Chief Secretary of Hong Kong when I first lived there in the early 1980s; his Wikipedia entry is here and certain parts of it make for eye-opening reading, although I was already familiar with some of the more startling information it imparts. Although I have not [yet] been able definitively to verify this, it seems to me that the writer of the Nimrod report is Sir Charles's son, given that Mr Haddon-Cave's biography states, inter alia, that he "is one of the only members of the English Bar to be called generally to the Hong Kong Bar" and the dates mentioned in both links. In summary the descriptors which come to my mind for both these individuals include the words 'competence' and 'integrity'.

1 comment:

  1. Well researched. Now, the question is how to circumvent this type of thing happening.


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