Families of the victims of the Shoreham airshow tragedy have welcomed the decision to charge the pilot – but the MP has said the decision ‘should not have taken 31 months’.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced last night that pilot Andrew Hill, 53, of Standon Road, Standon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, will be charged with 11 counts of gross negligence manslaughter and one count of endangering an aircraft.
Eleven men died when the Hawker Hunter jet he was flying crashed during a display on August 22, 2015.
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, tweeted: “Announcement that charges have been laid in Shoreham Airshow crash will give families of victims opportunity to raise many outstanding questions in court but should not haven taken 31 months to take that decision and has only compounded their grief.”
The 11 men who died 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.
Their families were informed of the decision at a private meeting in Lewes this evening.
Phil and Sue Grimstone, parents of the victim Matthew Grimstone who died aged 23, said they were pleased a decision had been reached but raised concerns over public safety at airshows.
They said in a statement: “We are pleased a decision has finally been made and we hope the criminal process will progress swiftly so that the inquest can commence.
“Our concern with the on-coming Airshow season is have the CAA done enough to tighten up rules to protect the general public?
“The Air Accidents Investigations Branch state that 65 per cent of display accidents involve aircraft crashing outside the area controlled by the organisers of the display.
“That remains a worry, not least for the general public who seem less protected than paying spectators.
“Whilst those within the industry like to point out that a member of the public has not been killed on the ground prior to 2015 for 63 years, there have been a number of incidents over the years of aircraft crashing at Airshows close to roads/houses.
“Only in 2017 on the 9th July an aircraft at Duxford Airshow came down in a field close to the M11.
“Tragically the luck ran out at Shoreham.”
Jim Morris, head of aviation at law firm Ashfords LLP and a former RAF pilot, who will represent the Grimstone family as an advocate at the inquest on a pro bono basis, said: “It has taken over two and a half years to reach this CPS decision on the accident following a long and complex investigation.
“We welcome the CPS’s decision which means that things can start to move forward for the families.
“The complex inquest into the tragedy can only commence after the criminal process and should take around eight weeks to complete.
“The inquest will examine in thorough detail the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, including the regulation of display, the organisation of the display, safety assessments, training, preparation and the aerobatic display flown.
“We strongly hope that on completion of the criminal process and the inquest, valuable lessons will be learned and all the necessary safety measures will be implemented to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again”.
Rebecca Smith, a specialist aviation lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, which represents 14 victim affected by the crash, said: “It is important that the families affected by this tragedy understand exactly what happened to cause the crash and what lessons can be learned to prevent similar issues in future.
“The criminal proceedings confirmed today are the next step before a full inquest examining the disaster is set to take place.
“Nothing can turn back the clock and many of those affected may never fully recover from the trauma of what happened.
“We are working with our clients to ensure that they secure the best possible support to maximise their recovery and rehabilitation.”
Mr Hill is due to appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 19 April.
Simon Ringrose from the CPS Special Crime Division said: “Sussex Police conducted a thorough and detailed investigation into the incident and in November 2017 submitted a full file of evidence to the CPS in relation to the actions of the pilot, Andrew Hill.
“In accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, I have considered whether there is sufficient evidence to charge Mr Hill with any offence and if so whether it is in the public interest to do so.
“Following a careful review of the evidence I have found there is sufficient evidence to charge Andrew Hill with the manslaughter by gross negligence of the 11 men who died.
“I have also authorised a further charge against Mr Hill of endangering an aircraft, contrary to Article 137 of the Air Navigation Order 2009.”
Sussex Police spent months investigating Mr Hill following the tragedy. A full file was delivered by Sussex Police to the Crown Prosecution Service at the end of November last year.
Mr Loughton MP had previously criticised a lack of progress with the case, describing the families as being in a ‘disgraceful’ state of limbo.
A pre-inquest review into the eleven deaths had been due to go ahead at the coroner’s court in Crawley on Monday (March 26).
But a West Sussex County Council spokesman said today: “Following the CPS decision to bring charges, the coroner is now considering whether Monday’s pre-inquest review hearing will take place.
“Due to the nature of the charges the full inquest must now await the conclusion of the criminal case.
“The West Sussex Coroner will continue to keep the matter under review to ensure that the inquests take place as soon as is reasonably possible.”
A decision by the Legal Aid Agency not to extend funding from the exceptional cases fund to the victims’ families when the inquest takes place has been slammed by Mr Loughton as ‘extraordinary’.
Almost 5,000 people have called for the decision to be reversed through a petition started by Claire Miles, whose nephew Daniele Polito was the youngest of the 11 men who died.