Eleven men who died after a Hawker Hunter plane crashed on a motorway during an air display at the 2015 Shoreham Air Show 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 11 lives had been “horribly lost” and it was clear the plane’s pilot should have abandoned a maneuver he was on. task.
Delivering her narrative sentence at County Hall North in Horsham, West Sussex, she said: “It has been a long journey, around seven years for you, to get the answers you wanted. It has been a difficult journey to get to this stage. I hope you feel that you now have a voice through these proceedings.”
She said that although she recorded a narrative verdict of unlawful killing, it “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, caused by hypoxia possibly due to to G-force.
The accident occurred on 22 August 2015 when the aircraft failed to pull out of a loop maneuver before crashing to the ground on the A27. Those killed and injured were not airshow participants, but ordinary 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 maneuver he was undertaking, adding: “This was not a close or difficult judgement.
“Even experienced pilots on the ground could see [the plane] was too low. The poor position of the aircraft in the sky was a further significant fault – this aircraft should not have been aligned with a dual carriageway.”
The coroner concluded his findings 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, of Brighton; Jacob Schilt, 23, of Brighton; James Mallinson, 72, of Newick; Mark Reeves, 53, of Seaford; Mark Trussler, 54, of Worthing; Matthew Grimstone, 23, of Brighton; Matthew Jones, 24, of Littlehampton; Maurice Abrahams, 76, of 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 provided evidence to the inquest. His request at the pre-inquest in September for the coroner to rule out a verdict of unlawful killing was rejected.
The victims had “absolutely no role” in causing their own deaths, the inquest heard. The coroner said the pen portraits given to the court were “truly heartbreaking to listen to”.
Sarah Stewart, partner at law firm Stewarts, which represented a number of families in the disaster, said after the conclusion: “The families we represent would like to thank the coroner for her thorough investigation. The Chief Coroner has found that the deaths of the 11 innocent men in the Shoreham airshow disaster on August 22, 2015 were avoidable.
“The bereaved families have waited more than seven years to reach this point, and while the conclusion of the senior coroner will not ease the pain of their loss, their voices have been heard.”