Scotland’s top law officer has warned that the families of last month’s offshore helicopter crash victims must not face a long drawn-out wait for answers.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland does not want the dead oil workers’ relatives to wait five years for a fatal accident inquiry into the tragedy – as will be the case with those bereaved by the 2009 Super Puma disaster.
However, he cautioned against rushing the parallel investigations which have to be carried out by aviation authorities, the Crown Office and the police.
The public sector union Unite has called for a radical overhaul of the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) system to be fast-tracked through the Scottish Parliament.
While Mr Mulholland is in favour of changes, he believes the process should not be hurried, as only a thorough investigation of the facts will result in improved safety and the answers grieving families are looking for.
The Air Accident Investigation Branch has to carry out its work as part of the probe, before the Crown and police can do their bit, he said.
The Lord Advocate would not say how long it could be before an FAI is held into the helicopter crash off Shetland on August 23 in which four people lost their lives.
“We would like to do these things as quickly as we can,” he said.
“There is no desire, whatsoever, to delay the fatal accident inquiry or to elongate a criminal investigation – we are just not like that.
“There is nothing worse than your loved one losing their life at work, it is horrendous. Families need answers, they need a thorough investigation which has been properly conducted by the experts in the field.
“They will get that and all the evidence will be placed in a public forum for families to hear.”
Mr Mulholland asked for all concerned to be patient in the interests of justice and making offshore helicopter flights safer.
“If it is a choice between thoroughness and quickness you have to go with thoroughness,” he said.
“It is important that any inquiry or prosecution is not half-baked and the evidence is not incomplete. That will not serve justice, will not serve the families, next of kin and victims, at all.”
An interim report by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) found no evidence of mechanical failure when the Super Puma plunged into the sea west of Sumburgh.
A spokesman for Oil and Gas UK said last night: “Because the inquiries are part of the judicial process we would have no comment to make at this stage.
“Anything we did say could cause more confusion, which is the last thing anyone wants in the circumstances.”
Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the offshore union RMT, said: “Nobody is saying that the process should have be rushed through but, by and large, the AAIB inquiry into the 2009 accident was completed within two years.
“Only an overhaul of the current FAI procedure will change things, but there is clear resistance to this or it would have happened years ago.”