Shoreham Airshow pilot acquitted over crash deaths

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Media captionFamilies of those who died have described the pain they have been through

The pilot of a jet which crashed at the Shoreham Airshow killing 11 men has been found not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Andrew Hill’s ex-military jet exploded in a fireball on the A27 in Sussex on 22 August 2015.

The ex-RAF pilot denied deliberately beginning a loop manoeuvre despite flying too low and too slowly.

Karim Khalil QC, defending, argued Mr Hill had been suffering from “cognitive impairment” when the jet crashed.

Mr Hill, 54, from Sandon, near Buntingford, Hertfordshire, was also formally acquitted of a count – that was not put in front of the jury – of negligently or recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft.

The Old Bailey jury deliberated for seven hours over three days and there were gasps from the families in the courtroom with many in tears as the verdicts were read out.

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Who were the Shoreham air crash victims?

Judge Mr Justice Edis told the relatives: “I am enormously impressed and grateful for the dignified way you have all behaved.

“I can see that you are upset and you are absolutely entitled to be but despite being upset you have behaved in a way which does you great credit.”

Shoreham Airshow pilot acquitted over crash deaths
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Media captionThe Hawker Hunter crashed into A27 in Shoreham

In a statement Sue and Phil Grimstone, whose son Matthew died in the crash, said: “There seems to be no justice for our son Matthew and all 11 men who died in such tragic circumstances.

“Why are we allowing any form of aerobatics to be performed when there is now doubt concerning any pilot’s ability to avoid becoming cognitively impaired from the normal G forces that will be experienced during an aerobatic display?

“Matthew had no interest in air shows, he could not have cared less. Knowing he died because an aircraft was being flown for fun, for the entertainment of others makes it even harder to bear.”

On the steps of the court, Mr Hill read out the names of all 11 victims and said: “A number of people were injured. I’m truly sorry for the part I played in their deaths and it’s they I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Shoreham Airshow pilot acquitted over crash deaths
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Media captionPilot Andy Hill acquitted over Shoreham Airshow deaths

The court had heard the Hawker Hunter jet “disintegrated” upon impact, creating a “massive fireball” when it hit the ground.

Mr Hill, a British Airways captain at the time, had been performing a manoeuvre known as a bent loop before his jet crashed on to the A27.

Prosecutor Tom Kark QC, acknowledged Mr Hill was an experienced pilot but said he had been known to take risks and the jet was “probably as much as 1,000ft below the height required” at the top of the loop.

The Old Bailey was told that the defendant had a “cavalier attitude to safety”.

But Mr Hill said he took a “very structured, disciplined approach” to display flying and sometimes held back from flights he was not comfortable with carrying out.

The former RAF instructor claimed he had blacked out in the air, having experienced “cognitive impairment” brought on by hypoxia possibly due to the effects of G-force.

He “miraculously escaped” when the aircraft broke up and he was thrown into a ditch, the jury heard.

After being pulled from the wreckage it was found he had suffered head injuries and fractures to his ribs and spine.

He was placed in an induced coma before being discharged a month later and is now in physically good health, the court heard.

Mr Hill told the Old Bailey he had no memory from three days before the crash to when he woke from his coma and had spent the last three years “trying to resolve what happened”.

In 2017 a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch also found the disaster was caused by pilot error after the plane was too slow and too low during the loop manoeuvre.

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Steve Parsons/PA

Image caption

The prosecution argued Andy Hill was flying too low to complete a manoeuvre while performing at the Shoreham Airshow in 2015

The men who died

  • Matt Jones, a 24-year-old personal trainer
  • Daniele Polito, 23 was travelling in the same car as Mr Jones
  • Matthew Grimstone, 23, a Worthing United footballer who worked as a groundsman at Brighton & Hove Albion
  • Jacob Schilt, also 23 and also a Worthing United player, was travelling to a match with Mr Grimstone
  • Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton, was a chauffeur on his way to pick up a bride on her wedding day
  • Friends Richard Smith, 26, and Dylan Archer, 42, who were going for a bike ride on the South Downs
  • Mark Reeves, 53, had ridden his motorcycle to the perimeter of Shoreham Airport to take photos of the planes
  • Tony Brightwell, 53, from Hove was an aircraft enthusiast and had learnt to fly at Shoreham airfield
  • Mark Trussler, 54, had gone to watch the display on his Suzuki motorbike and was standing next to the road
  • James “Graham” Mallinson, 72, from Newick, was a photographer and retired engineer

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