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Defence Minister Apologises for Deaths on HMS Tireless

HMS Tireless at Gibraltar
HMS Tireless in the Clyde area of Scotland.

Following today's conclusion of the inquest into the deaths of Operator Maintainer Anthony Huntrod and Leading Operator Maintainer Paul McCann on board HMS Tireless in March 2007, Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth has repeated his 'unreserved' apology for avoidable departmental failings.

Sunderland coroner Derek Winter gave a narrative verdict today, 24 March 2009, at the end of the six-week inquest saying "systemic failures led to the contamination and damage" of the oxygen generators on board "which in turn caused the explosion".

During the inquest the coroner heard a batch of almost 1,000 self-contained oxygen generators (SCOGs) left in a hazardous waste depot in Devonport were returned to Royal Navy service in 2006.

Mr Winter said it was "a significant possibility" that the SCOG which exploded was one that had originally been sent to the dump.

But it was impossible to say because the method of tracking and accounting for SCOGs was incomplete.

Mr Winter was critical of the way the oxygen generators were handled, stored and managed. He said:

"There was a culture of complacency regarding the risks posed by SCOGs and a tolerance of practices likely to increase those risks," adding that at Devonport the practices were much less rigorous than at the UK's other main nuclear submarine base at Faslane, Scotland.

Following today's conclusion of the inquest, Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said:

"My deepest sympathies remain with the families of Leading Operator Maintainer Paul McCann and Operator Maintainer Anthony Huntrod at this difficult time. I would like to unreservedly apologise to the families, as I have done previously in the House and in person, for the avoidable failings, for which this department is responsible, which brought about this tragic incident. I would also like to pay tribute to the crew of HMS Tireless for their courageous and professional response.

"The MOD and the Royal Navy are committed to doing everything possible to prevent any recurrence of this tragedy. To this end, MOD and Royal Navy investigations have been conducted and lessons have already been learned. But we also have the verdict given today by Her Majesty’s Coroner, Sunderland, at the end of a thorough and sensitively handled inquest, for which we are very grateful. We will look in detail at his findings, and at the Rule 43 letter that he has confirmed he will write to the Secretary of State for Defence, before responding in full."

Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said:

"The period since the incident onboard HMS Tireless two years ago has been very difficult for the families of Leading Operator Maintainer Paul McCann and Operator Maintainer Anthony Huntrod, and for their friends and naval colleagues, and I would like to offer again my very sincere condolences to both families.

"In acknowledging the coroner's findings and those of our own Board of Inquiry, it is vital that we learn the lessons of this tragic incident and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent it happening again. Steps have already been taken to eliminate as far as possible the risk that might be posed by self-contained oxygen generators.

"I would like also to take this opportunity to recognise the sheer professionalism demonstrated by the whole ship's company of HMS Tireless which was testament to their teamwork and training in what were very challenging circumstances. The Royal Navy Submarine Service remains one of the most professionally capable, best trained and highly regarded of all submarine forces in the world."

Speaking at the end of the inquest today, Commodore Moores said:

"I, on behalf of the First Sea Lord, the entire Royal Navy and the submarine service would like to express our deepest sympathy with Mr and Mrs McCann, Mr Huntrod and Ms Gooch on the loss of their sons in this tragic event.

"The Royal Navy Police, Ministry of Defence Police and the Board of Inquiry team conducted exhaustive investigations, the conclusions of which have been borne out by the coroner's verdict today.

"All those recommendations identified relating directly to the safe operation of self-contained oxygen generators or SCOGs have been completed. Emergency oxygen generators (EOG), of a new and safer design have been deployed on all operational submarines. These are the only oxygen generators that could now be used. All of us are committed to doing everything we can to avoid such a tragic incident happening again.

"I would like to express my thanks to all those who assisted me in my Board of Inquiry. We assured the families from the very outset that our investigation would be impartial and as thorough as possible, and that we would leave no stone unturned to ensure we got the answers to as many of their questions as possible. I hope we have managed that.

"Finally, I would like to express my admiration for the crew of HMS Tireless, the team at the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station and all those who worked so selflessly in difficult circumstances to assist in every way they could to deal with this tragic event.

"Paul and Anthony will not be forgotten.

"Thank you."