Families still await answers five years after Shoreham Airshow tragedy

PA

The deaths of 11 men in the Shoreham Airshow tragedy are “being treated as secondary” because of legal restrictions on evidence at their inquest, the family of one of the victims have said.

A Hawker Hunter plane exploded into a fireball on the A27 in West Sussex on August 22, 2015 as pilot Andrew Hill attempted a loop as part of the nearby airshow.

He was thrown clear of the burning wreckage and survived the disaster.

Five years on, the families of those killed are still searching for answers – and will have to wait longer after the formal inquest was delayed again because of Covid-19.

Shoreham Airshow crash
Shoreham Airshow crash

Matthew Grimstone was 23 when he and his friend and footballing team-mate Jacob Schilt were killed in the disaster.

They were travelling to Worthing on the A27 when his car was hit by the jet aircraft.

Mr Grimstone’s parents Phil and Sue said: “It feels as if the last five years has passed us by. We miss Matt dearly.

“Our focus has been and will remain on getting answers as to why and how this tragedy was allowed to happen.

“We are angry and we have every right to be so, we try not to go there, but it is there.”

They spoke of their frustration that many pieces of evidence held by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch are deemed “legally protected” and might not be disclosed during the inquest.

They continued: “We feel Penelope Schofield, the senior coroner, and the families should have access to this evidence for the inquest.

“We appreciate that the laws relevant to this type of inquest are complicated, but it appears to us that the death of our son, all 11 men, is being treated as secondary and a significant amount of important evidence may not be allowed to be used to assist the inquest.

“The coroner has promised that this delayed inquest will be ‘full and fearless’, and most certainly needs to be.”

Local Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the PA news agency: “The tragedy is still very fresh in the minds of the local community who rallied round so impressively at the time, showing their empathy and solidarity for the families involved and doing so much to support them.

Shoreham Airshow crash
Shoreham Airshow crash

“It will sadly forever be part of Shoreham’s history, but where the response of the community and the emergency services was the one positive to come out of it.”

Speaking of the impact the delays to the inquest have had on the families, he added: “We all share their sense of frustration at the continuing delays for a multitude of reasons which means that it remains difficult to achieve closure until that inquest has done its work and lessons really learned.”

Barrister Gerard Forlin QC, who represents many of the families at the inquest, said the investigation needs to be “full, frank, fearless”.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Forlin said: “They want to find out exactly why their loved ones died and that is why we strenuously made submissions in the June hearing by Zoom, the fifth of such preliminary hearings, as to why the GoPro footage and the dog cam footage and other material is so crucial to the inquest.

“Of course the inquest and the duty of the learned coroner to conduct this inquest lawfully, fearlessly and impartially is definite.

“But also one of her statutory duties is to look at what we lawyers call a prevention of future deaths.

“And that is one of the things that she will have to in law look at to see whether there should be recommendations going forward in relation to airshows generally.

“Of course this is to do with the UK, but the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions around the world are very carefully looking at this inquest to see how it may impact on airshows in their own countries.”

The 11 men who died were wedding chauffeur Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton; retired engineer James Mallinson, 72, from Newick, near Lewes; window cleaner and builder Mark Trussler, 54, from Worthing; cycling friends Dylan Archer, 42, from Brighton, and Richard Smith, 26, from Hove; NHS manager Tony Brightwell, 53, from Hove; grandfather Mark Reeves, 53, from Seaford; Worthing United footballers Matthew Grimstone and Jacob Schilt, both 23; personal trainer Matt Jones, 24; and Daniele Polito, 23, from Worthing.