FAMILIES have expressed their ‘disappointment’ and ‘devastation’ after a pilot was cleared over the deaths of 11 men in the Shoreham Airshow crash.
Andrew Hill said he was ‘truly sorry’ for losing control of his aircraft, resulting in the tragedy on August 22, 2015.
He had been attempting a loop when his Hawker Hunter jet exploded into a fireball on the A27 in West Sussex.
Survivors ran for their lives and suffered terrible burns when they were caught in the blast.
Mr Hill miraculously survived after being thrown clear from the burning wreckage into brambles.
The prosecution said the former RAF and British Airways pilot had been flying too low and slow as he attempted the disastrous stunt.
Tom Kark QC alleged he had at times a ‘cavalier’ attitude to safety and a history of taking risks, having played ‘fast and loose’ with the rules in the past.
But Mr Hill said he blacked out in the air, having experienced ‘cognitive impairment’ brought on by hypoxia possibly due to the effects of G-force.
The 54-year-old, of Sandon, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, denied 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Victims’ families wept in court has Mr Hill was found not guilty after just over seven hours of jury deliberations.
Mr Justice Edis acknowledged they were ‘enormously upset’ as he praised the ‘very dignified way’ they conducted themselves throughout the trial.
Speaking outside court, Mr Hill said: ‘1,295 days ago, I lost control of an aircraft resulting in the deaths of Maurice Abrahams, Dylan Archer, Tony Brightwell, Graham Mallinson, Matthew Grimstone, Matt Jones, Daniele Polito, Mark Reeves, Jacob Schilt, Richard Smith, Mark Trussler. A number of people were injured.
‘I’m truly sorry for the part I played in their deaths and it is they that I will remember for the rest of my life.’
Leslye Polito, the mother of crash victim Daniele Polito, 23, said she felt ‘disappointed, very upset and primarily let down by the justice system’.
Sue and Phil Grimstone, whose son Matthew, 23 also lost his life whist driving past on the A27, said they were ‘devastated’, adding ‘There seems to be no justice for our son Matthew and all 11 men who died in such tragic circumstances. Why are we allowing any form of aerobatics to be performed when there is now doubt concerning any pilot’s ability to avoid becoming cognitively impaired from the normal G forces that will be experienced during an aerobatic display?
‘Matthew had no interest in airshows, he could not have cared less. Knowing he died because an aircraft was being flown for fun, for the entertainment of others, makes it even harder to bear.’
Oliver Morriss, nephew of Mark Reeves, expressed ‘complete devastation at the most surprising not guilty verdict’. He said: ‘My uncle, Mark Reeves, was one of the 11 men who tragically lost their lives on the 22nd August 2015. It has been a long and complex trial and we feel that the success of Mr Hill’s defence of cognitive impairment could establish a worrying precedent and have far-reaching consequences.’
Detective Inspector Jon Fanner, of Sussex Police, said he respected the verdict but defended the decision to bring charges following ‘a long, complex and unique investigation’.
Sarah Stewart, a partner at Stewarts, who represents many of the bereaved families, called for a wider investigation to prevent future tragedies.
The crash saw the greatest loss of life at an air show since 1952, when 31 people, including the pilot, were killed at Farnborough Airshow.
She said: ‘It is now almost four years since the Shoreham Airshow disaster killed 11 innocent men. The bereaved families have had to painfully re-live the circumstances of their loved ones’ death again and again.
‘The families want answers and a verdict will go some way towards that. But it is only one part of the jigsaw.’