The destruction in an enormous fireball of Nimrod XV230 in Afghanistan last September was the worst single loss to have occurred in the Middle East in the current campaigns there, indeed since the 1982 Falklands War: no less than twelve members of 120 Squadron RAF were killed in the incident.
Since then considerable effort has been made to ferret out the cause of the incident, hampered by a considerable unwillingness on the part of the MoD to play ball in that regard. That will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with MoD obstruction of anything and everything, particularly anything which might suggest that they have been criminally negligent or at least negligent in their duty.
Now, however, the sieve has begun to leak on this issue. The MoD would doubtless like to hide behind a false screen of concealing operational information in the interest of security but there comes a time when the issue of the failure of the MoD properly to maintain equipment and resultant deaths of servicemen overrides such considerations: rightly so as most would think that hiding incompetence behind a supposed shield of ‘national security’ is one of the lowest forms of cowardice.
The leaking has, according to The Times, come from ‘high-ranking RAF officers’ which, one feels, implies a step up from the usual ‘senior officers’ which is in itself interesting. The nub of the story is that this Nimrod and others have been used in an environment for which they were not designed nor adapted, namely high intensity operations in a continental zone as compared with the role of maritime reconnaissance for which the Nimrod, a scion of the Comet, was originally designed.
The Emails reveal a series of internal warnings that the nimrod fleet was feeling its age and suffering from a succession of fuel leaks that appear to be related in particular to the age of the airframes and the nature of the operations in which they were being used. One email in particular, dating from December 2005, deals with the Nimrod that eventually was the subject of the present scandal:
“XV230 [the designated number for the doomed Nimrod] has fuel leak issues which need to be rectified before the aircraft can be deployed.”
Another email said:
“Fuel leaks on the Nimrod MR2 aircraft now pose a significant threat to the force being able to meet commitments and operational tasking.”
And a third:
“The age of the airframe, combined with the aggressive tempo with which we are flying the jets in stark temperature shifts is contributing to our leak headache.”
Now it is not as yet clear how high up knowledge of the problems which the Nimrod fleet faced went. There has been a Board of Enquiry which is due to report soon and its findings published. It will be interesting to see whether it answers the usual question: what did the Minister know and when did he know it? If it is confirmed that the Nimrod was destroyed and lives lost as a result of a failure to deal with a known problem, than that question must be answered.
It is, after all, germane not just to the matter of political accountability but also to other important matters, such as whether there should be prosecutions for homicide or other offences, such as misfeasance in a public office. Labour has been known to go on about the concept of corporate manslaughter. Perhaps it might like to think of how it might or ought to apply to civil servants and ministers and whether there is a case for part-time Defence Minister Des Browne to answer in this instance
[The offence of misfeasance in a public office is committed by a public officer acting as such who wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder, without reasonable excuse or justification.]