Wales

Airman Scott Hughes's family to sue MoD after boat death

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Media captionScott Hughes had been on a two-day stopover in Cyprus after a tour in Afghanistan

The family of a Gwynedd airman who died after being struck by a speedboat in Cyprus say they are planning to sue the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

A coroner blamed a systemic failure of safety systems at a military base where Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes was fatally injured while off duty.

The 20-year-old, of Y Felinheli, had just completed a tour in Afghanistan.

His family said his death was a "wholly avoidable catastrophe". The MoD said its thoughts were with them.

The RAF airman died two days after the incident, which happened within a sovereign base area (SBA) off the shore of Cyprus.

He had been relaxing with other servicemen during a two-day stopover on their way home from Afghanistan in November 2010.

During an inquest into his death, north Wales coroner Nicola Jones, in a narrative inquest conclusion, said no safe management safety system had been in place.

Speaking after the hearing, SAC Hughes's mother Emma strongly criticised the MoD, saying her son had been "prepared to put his life on the line to defend his country" while on a six-month tour of frontline duty in Afghanistan.

"In return his employer, the Ministry of Defence, catastrophically failed to take care of him whilst he was undertaking duties on a decompression activity in Cyprus," she said.

"This ultimately led to the loss of his very young, exciting and full life."

She continued: "Scott's whole life and very promising career within the RAF have been cut short by failures at the Ministry of Defence which have been noted in this inquest.

"We as the family have endured almost three long years of pure hell waiting for this inquest to take place in our quest to find all of the truth about what happened to our precious son Scott."

She said the MoD had caused the family "considerable heartache and distress by failing to support us in every aspect of this living nightmare".

Mrs Hughes added: "Scott gallantly and courageously served his country with pride and honour.

"Their (the MoD) failure to support us in the heartbreaking loss of our talented, articulate and beautiful son, has compounded our grief and continues to astound us.

"We are extremely relieved that the truth of this wholly avoidable catastrophe has finally been heard."

The solicitor representing the family, Mark McGhee, said they would be "vigorously pursuing a substantial civil claim against the Ministry of Defence".

"Unsurprisingly the coroner's findings have confirmed what we and Scott's family have believed for almost three years - that the tragic death of this fine young man was wholly avoidable," said Mr McGhee.

Health and safety

The inquest heard that as part of the mandatory relaxation break at an SBA in Cyprus, a number of water-based activities were organised at the base's water sports centre on Tunnel Beach, Episkopi.

On 4 November, 2010, SAC Hughes, who served with 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, and two colleagues, Jack Bennett and Jamie Savage, decided to take part in one of the activities where they sat in a rubber ring and were towed along by a speedboat.

However, SAC Hughes fell off, the inquest was told, and started swimming back to the nearby pontoon, a normal practice.

Shortly afterwards, the boat driver, a civilian contractor referred to as Stelios, dropped the remaining passengers at the shore, unhooked the ring and moved off towards the pontoon.

The hearing was told that this was when SAC Hughes was struck, suffering severe head injuries. He was taken to hospital in Limassol where he died two days later.

At the end of the inquest held in Llandudno, Ms Jones said there had been a systemic failure of safety systems within the military base which meant health and safety briefings were insufficient.

She also said that if the boat driver had put his boat into neutral or stopped the engine once he had hit SAC Hughes instead of going into reverse he would not have suffered his fatal injuries.

An MoD spokesperson said: "Our thoughts remain with Senior Aircraftman Hughes's family and friends at this very difficult time.

"As this may be subject to legal action it would be inappropriate to comment at this time".

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