I have held a Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter) with ratings on the R22, R44 and EC120.
My flying experiences are a manifestation of my interest in applied technology – gadgets. I have learned a good deal about checklists and discipline – both of which are essential to safety in the air and in the NHS.
In aviation there is an open system of accountability. Cross cockpit gradient is dealt with by making a failure of a junior officer or non-handling pilot to challenge the actions of a more senior officer or the handling pilot a disciplinary or even a criminal offence.
The pilot, the loadmaster and another were killed and others were seriously injured when Puma ZA 934 crashed at the Catterick garrison on 8th August 2007. On behalf of the Services Prosecution Authority, I successfully prosecuted a non-handling co-pilot of a Puma Helicopter for dangerous flying. This is thought to be first case of its kind where the failure of the non-handling pilot to minimise the risks and hazards to the aircraft, its passengers and crew and the general public has been held criminally responsible for his failures.
Accidents happen because of slipshod behaviour. Everyone is susceptible to cutting corners and to the belief that it will not happen to them. It does. Pilots of course not only have responsibility for their crew and passengers (and others outside the aircraft) but also for themselves. Michael Linhart died in July 2012. He had spent many years striving for justice for his children Helen and Katie who were killed in an R44 Helicopter crash near Harborough in 1998. Eventually he got a fresh inquest and I had the honour of representing him.
The Robinson R22 (in which I trained) is a challenging aircraft requiring extremely careful handling. Unfortunately the inexperienced often come to grief. Amongst other fatal crashes I was instructed in civil litigation which followed from the fatal crash of an R22 (G-TGRR) in November 2004.
There are many lessons already learned in aviation that can and should be transferred to medicine to improve safety to patients. I am a founder member and legal adviser to CORESS which enables experiences of medical accidents and near misses to be shared on a confidential basis. It is founded on CHIRP. For many years I have campaigned for a Medical Accident Investigation Authority (MAIA) along the lines of the AAIB, MAIB, and RAIB and have lectured and published in patient safety. Between 40,000 and 100,000 deaths each year are caused or materially contributed to by medical error. In terms of human life and the resources of the NHS this cost is enormous and totally unacceptable. Honesty, openness and integrity should be the central ethos in tackling this hidden problem.
I was honoured to be instructed as leading counsel on behalf of the families of the deceased pilots Flt Lt Jonathan Tapper and Flt Lt Richard “Rick” Cook in the Mull of Kintyre Chinook helicopter tragedy and to be able to see them posthumously exhonerated 17 years after their deaths on 2nd June 1994. This was by way of an Order in Council (Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence 13th July 2011) being laid before the House of Commons.
In August 2014 I was privileged to represent the mother and brother of the late Captain Ben Babington Browne who was killed in a Griffon helicopter accident in Kabul province Afghanistan. The Canadian pilots, who survived, were insufficiently trained and failed to appreciate that the aircraft was overweight. They failed to seek the obvious risk to life in the high and hot conditions and crashed on take off when visual references were lost in a dustball.