HC Deb 25 January 1956 vol 548 cc186-7
14. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Air why the body of Flying Officer Peter F. Topham, reference number P.440989S.14. (Cas.), has not been buried, despite his death in a flying accident nearly four months ago in Italy; why there was a delay of nearly four months before a report on the accident was sent to Mrs. Topham, of Kendal Rise Road, Birmingham; and whether, in these special circumstances, he will arrange for the body to be brought to England at public expense or at least taken back to Flying Officer Topham's base in Germany from which the relatives could arrange repatriation.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Nigel Birch)

After the military funeral on 3rd September, the coffin was placed in a private sepulchre belonging to a chaplain of the Italian Air Force. As soon as it was known that the coffin was not to be brought back to this country, arrangements were made to buy a plot of ground in Brindisi Civil Cemetery, in which the coffin has now been buried.

A court of inquiry was convened within a week of the accident. Investigations had to be pursued in several foreign countries. Mrs. Topham was informed of the findings as soon as the report was received in the Air Ministry. As the hon. Member knows, it has not been Government policy before or since the war to bring the bodies of Servicemen back to this country at the public expense.

I am sure that the House would wish to join with me in expressing sympathy with Mrs. Topham in her bereavement.

Mr. Chapman

Will not the Minister, whom we are glad to congratulate on his promotion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] —agree that there was some delay in this case and that a graceful apology might be made on behalf of the R.A.F.? In the very special circumstances, if there is an offer of some help to Mrs. Topham to go to see her husband's grave, will not he, too, on behalf of the R.A.F., make some offer to contribute towards the cost of getting her out there?

Mr. Birch

These cases are very sad. I had a lot to do with them when I was at the Ministry of Defence. On the actual handling of the case, all that could be done was done. I would certainly like to look into the second part of the Question.

Air Commodore Harvey

Can my right hon. Friend arrange for Mrs. Topham to fly to Italy in a Transport Command aircraft, which should not cost the Services anything? May I have an answer?