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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Caroline Davies and agency

Shoreham airshow victims were unlawfully killed, coroner rules

Emergency services attending the scene on 22 August 2015 on the A27 as after a plane crashed into cars during an aerial display at the Shoreham airshow in West Sussex.
Emergency services attending the scene on 22 August 2015 on the A27 as after a plane crashed into cars during an aerial display at the Shoreham airshow in West Sussex. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

Eleven men who died after a Hawker Hunter aircraft crashed on to a dual carriageway during an aerial display at the 2015 Shoreham airshow in West Sussex were unlawfully killed, a coroner has ruled.

At the conclusion of an inquest seven years after the incident, in which 13 other people were injured, senior coroner Penelope Schofield said that 11 lives had been “cruelly lost” and that it was clear that the aircraft’s pilot should have abandoned a manoeuvre he was undertaking.

Delivering her narrative verdict at County Hall North in Horsham, West Sussex, she said: “It has been a long journey, some seven years for you, to get the answers you wanted. It has been a difficult journey getting to this stage. I hope you feel that, through these proceedings, you now have a voice.”

She said that although she recorded a narrative verdict of unlawful killing, that did not “detract from the fact” that a criminal court had acquitted the pilot, Andrew Hill, who was also injured. Hill was charged with 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence but found not guilty on all counts in March 2019. He maintains he has no recollection of the crash and claimed he experienced “cognitive impairment” while at the controls, brought on by hypoxia possibly due to G-force.

The crash occurred on 22 August 2015 as the aircraft failed to pull out of a loop manoeuvre before crashing to the ground on to the A27. Those killed and injured were not airshow attendees, but regular commuters on the A27 or spectators watching the show from outside the designated viewing area.

The coroner said it was “clear and obvious” that the pilot should have abandoned the manoeuvre he was undertaking, adding: “This was not a close or difficult judgment call.

“Even experienced pilots on the ground could see [the plane] was too low. The poor position of the plane in the sky was a further significant error – this plane should not have been lined up with a dual carriageway.”

The coroner finished her conclusions by reading out the names of the 11 men who died: Anthony Brightwell, 53, from Hove; Daniele Polito, 23, from Goring-by-Sea; Dylan Archer, 42, from Brighton; Jacob Schilt, 23, from Brighton; James Mallinson, 72, from Newick; Mark Reeves, 53, from Seaford; Mark Trussler, 54, from Worthing; Matthew Grimstone, 23, from Brighton; Matthew Jones, 24, from Littlehampton; Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton; and Richard Smith, 26, from Hove.

A number of members of the victims’ families were present.

Hill was not called as a witness, having submitted evidence to the investigation. His request at the pre-inquest review in September for the coroner to rule out a verdict of unlawful killing was denied.

The victims had played “absolutely no part” in the cause of their own death, the inquest heard. The coroner said the pen portraits provided to the court were “truly heartbreaking to listen to”.

Sarah Stewart, partner at law firm Stewarts, who represented a number of families in the disaster, said after the conclusion: “The families we represent would like to thank the senior coroner for her thorough investigation. The senior coroner has found that the deaths of the 11 innocent men in the Shoreham airshow disaster on 22 August 2015 were avoidable.

“The bereaved families have waited more than seven years to reach this point and, although the senior coroner’s conclusion will not ease the pain of their loss, their voices have been heard.”

• This article was amended on 21 December 2022. An earlier version incorrectly referred to the A27 as a “motorway”.

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