A ROW has blown up over the inclusion in the New Year’s Honours list of the commanding officer of the crewmen who died when their RAF Nimrod crashed in Afghanistan.
Fourteen men were killed in the tragedy in September 2006, which was the UK armed forces’ biggest loss of life since the Falklands campaign. Among them was the pilot, 39-year-old Flight Lieutenant Allan Squires who spent his early years in Ellesmere Port.
Wing Commander Martin Cannard was made an OBE for his work with the bereaved families.
At the time of the crash, he was commander of 120 Squadron, based at RAF Kinloss, in Scotland, where 12 of the crew were stationed.
But while one of the victims’ family members has welcomed the award, another has said the move “beggars belief.”
Pamela Swarbrick, whose 28-year-old son, Fl Lt Steven Swarbrick, was among the crew, said she hoped the honour would be the first step to recognising their bravery and professionalism.
Mrs Swarbrick, of Formby, said: “Martin was wonderful and has just been marvellous all the way though.
“I’ll be phoning him to congratulate him. I would like the whole of the aircrew awarded medals and maybe this is the first step on the way.”
Mrs Swarbrick has mentioned getting the crew posthumous medals to Ministry of Defence officials.
But Graham Knight, from Bridgwater, Somerset, who lost his son Sergeant Ben Knight, 25, said he was shocked and outraged at Wing Cmdr Cannard’s OBE.
He said: “We’ve had very little interaction with Mr Cannard.
“In the report, they say there was a question mark over the airworthiness and safety of the aircraft, then you have got the commanding officer, one of the people responsible for the safety, getting an OBE. It just beggars belief really.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the commander deserved the award because he had “displayed extraordinary devotion, compassion and leadership under the most trying circumstances.
“He has selflessly placed the needs of his personnel and the RAF above and beyond his own, and demonstrated a commitment to the wellbeing of his squadron that was remarkable in its totality.
“He has also devoted large swathes of his time to the bereaved families both in person and in providing advice to the various welfare elements involved.”
The spokesperson added the MoD would consider applications for honours on their individual merits.
The Nimrod MR2 aircraft exploded, shortly after air-to-air refuelling, while on an intelligence-gathering operation after Fl Lt Allan Squires, 39, from Clatterbridge, reported a fire in the bomb-bay.
Its crew were cleared of any blame at an inquiry in December last year.
Late last year, Defence Secretary Des Browne apologised to the victims’ families for the crash.