Chinook crash reaction indicative of changing attitude both sides of Border

UK state papers: All 29 people on board – 25 intelligence personnel – were travelling to a security conference

 Garda commissioner Patrick Culligan with then minister Nora Owen in 1996. The commissioner knew many of those killed in the 1994 crash and “valued their advice and co-operation in counteracting terrorism and crime at every level”. File photograph: Paddy Whelan

Garda commissioner Patrick Culligan with then minister Nora Owen in 1996. The commissioner knew many of those killed in the 1994 crash and “valued their advice and co-operation in counteracting terrorism and crime at every level”. File photograph: Paddy Whelan

 

A “moving” interview by the Garda commissioner where he spoke of his sadness at the deaths of 25 British intelligence experts in a helicopter crash in 1994 illustrated how much relations between the security services on the two sides of the Border had developed, according to a British diplomat at the time.

In the aftermath of the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash in June 1994, Patrick Culligan gave a TV interview where he said he was “deeply saddened” at the loss of life in the accident. All 29 people on board – 25 intelligence personnel and four crew – were killed when they were travelling to a security conference in Inverness.

The commissioner said he knew many of those killed and “valued their advice and co-operation in counteracting terrorism and crime at every level”, according to a memo from the British embassy in Dublin. The memo is one of a series of documents released by the National Archives in London about the crash.

‘Embarrassed silence’

It details how the reaction of the commissioner was indicative of a changing attitude of co-operation between the security forces on both sides of the Border.

“A few years ago, we could have expected an embarrassed silence from the Irish at such a disaster involving acknowledged members of the intelligence community. These public reactions illustrate the change in attitudes towards security co-operation,” said the memo.

During the interview with the commissioner, Culligan said that while the deaths had been a loss to the RUC, they were also a loss to the Garda. “Press coverage has been wide and sympathetic,” said the memo.

Apologised

In 2010, an independent review of the circumstances around the crash overturned a verdict that the two pilots of the helicopter were to blame. The British defence secretary at the time, Liam Fox, apologised to the two families. Campaigners had claimed the helicopter suffered from a number of technical problems.

In 1994, Jeremy Hanley, the minister of state for the armed forces, said the group of service personnel, RUC officers and civil servants travelling together, was “not a departure from the normal practice” in a letter to John Reid MP, later to become the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.