HC Deb 10 June 1969 vol 784 cc1234-8

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he will now make public the findings of the Second Fay inquiry into the circumstances of the Munich air crash of 1958; and whether he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. William Rodgers)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 74.

The report of Mr. Fay's inquiry is being published this afternoon.

Mr. Fay and his colleagues were asked to consider whether blame for the Munich accident of February, 1958, was to be imputed to Captain Thain. Following protracted and exhaustive examination of all the available evidence which included re-examination of a number of the witnesses, the inquiry has concluded that

  1. 1. The cause of the accident was slush on the runway.
  2. 2. It is possible but unlikely that wing icing was a contributory cause
  3. 1235
  4. 3. Captain Thain was not at fault with regard to runway slush.
  5. 4. Captain Thain was at fault with regard to wing icing, but, because wing icing is unlikely to have been a contributory cause of the accident, blame for the accident cannot in this respect be imputed to him.
  6. 5. Captain Thain was at fault in permitting Captain Rayment to occupy the captain's seat, but this played no part in causing the accident.
Mr. Fay and his assessors, in accordance with their terms of reference, have, therefore, reported that in their opinion Captain Thain cannot be blamed for the accident.

Her Majesty's Government accept this finding and the Government of the Federal German Republic have been so informed.

We are very grateful to Mr. Fay and to his assessors, Professor Collar and Captain Jeffrey, for the extremely thorough examination they have made of the whole question. Their report has, I believe, now established as far as will ever be possible the full circumstances of this tragic accident.

I am sure that the House would wish me to congratulate Captain Thain on the successful outcome to his long campaign.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Does the Minister understand how grateful are all those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been concerned with this matter over 10 years for the statement that he has just made? Will he regard it as appropriate at this moment to record the name of Mr. Peter Remnant, my predecessor, upon whose sturdy interest in the matter at the start much of this outcome turns?

Will the hon. Gentleman also say whether, in informing the Federal German Government of the outcome of this report, he will suggest to them that the findings should in some way be inscribed upon the findings of their own original inquiry, which itself was the cause of the 10 years of tension and anxiety under which Captain Thain has been living?

Mr. Rodgers

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about his predecessor. Credit is also due to the hon. Gentleman himself for what he has done to keep the matter alive. The outcome fully justifies the decision announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a year ago to hold this inquiry.

As for the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, we have let the Federal German Government know the form of the report, but it is too early to have a reaction from them. I am sure that they will take note of all that is said in the House today. I know that we shall have such further consultations with them as may be necessary.

Mr. Alfred Morris

May I congratulate my right hon. Friends on their wisdom in setting up this inquiry? Is my hon Friend aware that the people of Man chester and elsewhere who mourned the loss of many of our city's great sportsmen in that disaster will welcome the outcome of the inquiry and the availability now of facts that were not previously known?

Mr. Rodgers

Yes. There will be considerable relief at the outcome of the inquiry in view of the tragic circumstances of 11 years ago. We can only regret that it has taken such a very long time.

Mr. Corfield

While very much welcoming the findings of the Fay Committee, may I ask the Minister whether I am right in assuming that the findings depend very much on evidence that was available to the Federal German authorities, but was not, in fact, taken into account by them? If this is true, will the hon. Gentleman make representations to the Federal German authorities that this has led, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has said, to 10 years of very acute anxiety on the part of Captain Thain?

Finally, I should like to associate myself with the congratulations which the hon. Gentleman has extended to Captain Thain. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider with his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and others, whether there is some means by which a British subject in this kind of situation, who eventually clears himself, may be recuperated to some extent for some of the considerable cost that this has entailed.

Mr. Rodgers

On the first point, it is very difficult, 11 years after the event, to know exactly what the outcome of the first German inquiry might have been if all the evidence which has since become available had been available then. As the House will know, evidence on the effects of slush on runways was a fairly late discovery, and largely the result of work done at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. We have taken note of the point that the hon. Gentleman has in mind about evidence which was only partially available, and we have drawn this to the attention of the Federal German Government.

On the second point, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. No compensation can fully redress the sense of grievance which Captain Thain must have. We shall look sympathetically at what might possibly be done for him. Any question of compensation from the Federal German Government would be a matter initially for Captain Thain.

Mr. Lubbock

We should like to associate ourselves with the congratulations that the Minister expressed on behalf of the House to Captain Thain in the successful conclusion of his 11-year fight to clear his name.

Might I suggest, in relation to the attitude of the Federal German Government, that the hon. Gentleman should offer to send experts from the Board of Trade to discuss the latest findings with the Federal German authorities to see whether their agreement might be obtained to the report which has just been published so that everyone will be on the same wavelength and Captain Thain will also be cleared by the Federal German authorities as well as by our own inquiry?

Mr. Rodgers

That is the kind of procedure which might be appropriate in the circumstances.

Sir A. V. Harvey

While appreciating what the Minister has just said in answer to the question about compensation by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), may we take it that if the Federal German Government are not prepared to compensate Captain Thain, who has shown great restraint and dignity over all those years, he will be taken care of on a reasonable basis by B.E.A. or the Government, as he worked for a nationalised industry?

Mr. Rodgers

It is too early to make any assumption about how the Federal German Government may react. Difficult questions are involved because, as the hon. Gentleman may know, the circumstances of Captain Thain's dismissal were not directly concerned with the specific cause of the accident. Obviously, everyone will look sympathetically at the position in which Captain Thain finds himself.