Published July 2019

Who really killed Sean Cunningham?

Managing airworthiness is like a portrait; it can never be finished, it can only be abandoned. MoD’s conscious decision to abandon its legal obligations led to a series of classic cover-ups. The truth behind Nimrod XV230, Chinook ZD576, Hercules XV179 and other fatal accidents was exposed only through the persistence of a few members of the public. MoD’s mindset - to lie, obfuscate and issue facile apologies only after it is too late - has not altered.

The tragic loss of Sean Cunningham, Red 5, had its root cause in the same systemic failures. Martin-Baker, designers of the world’s best escape system, were fined £1.1M for not providing servicing information; which they had already provided many times and MoD instructed its engineers not to use. Applying this information would have saved Sean’s life. Despite verbal, written and video proof of this, the Health and Safety Executive maintained MoD never had the information and continued with its prosecution.

The book also draws parallels with the death of Flight Lieutenant Simon Burgess, RAF Valley, 13 February 1996. Once again, prior warnings were ignored that, if heeded, would have removed a root cause of Flight Lieutenant Cunningham’s death.

The two RAF training film extracts below demonstrate beyond any doubt that MoD held the information necessary to ensure Sean Cunningham's main parachute deployed correctly.

In court, and to the Cunningham family, MoD denied having this information. Knowing this to be untrue, the Health and Safety Executive repeated the claim, and it formed the basis of its charge against Martin-Baker.

I consider those responsible in MoD guilty of maladministration, and the Health and Safety Executive of prosecutorial misconduct. Both committed misconduct in a public office.

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