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Decision to Charge

Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

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CPS decision on the death of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham


Alison Storey, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: "After carefully reviewing all of the evidence I have concluded that no manslaughter charges should be brought in relation to the death of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, a Red Arrows pilot who tragically died after being ejected from his stationary aircraft on 8 November 2011.

"I have provided the police with on-going advice throughout their very thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Flt Lt Cunningham.

"I provided the police with advice on the circumstances surrounding the activation of the ejection seat. Following this advice, the police decided not to pursue further criminal investigation into this aspect of the incident.

"The police did conduct a full criminal investigation into the circumstances which lead to the failure of Flt Lt Cunningham's parachute to open. A full file of evidence in relation to this was submitted by the police and reviewed by me. I considered charges against three individuals, and against the Ministry of Defence and Martin Baker Ltd, in relation to their involvement in either the manufacture or servicing of the relevant equipment.

"The offences I considered were gross negligence manslaughter and corporate manslaughter. Whilst there are some differences between these offences, they both require the prosecution to prove that the individual or organisation owed a duty of care to the deceased, that they breached this duty, that the breach caused the death of the person who died and that the breach was so gross as to amount to a criminal offence. To bring a prosecution there has to be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of proving all of these elements to the high criminal standard; beyond reasonable doubt.

"The evidence I considered was extensive and included results of testing of the equipment and expert reports.

"I have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish that any individual or the Ministry of Defence breached their duty of care to Flt Lt Cunningham in relation to the servicing of the relevant equipment.

"I also concluded that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of Martin Baker Ltd in relation to the manufacture of the parachute.

"I have therefore concluded, in accordance with Code for Crown Prosecutors, that no charges should be brought in connection with the death of Flt Lt Cunningham.

"I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of Flt Lt Cunningham."


Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  3. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Division, Special Crime and Counter Terrorism, and Organised Crime. In 2011-2012, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department of Health (DoH) prosecution functions were transferred to the CPS. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  4. In 2010-2011 the CPS employed around 7,745 people and prosecuted 957,881 cases with 116,898 of these in the Crown Court, and the remaining 840,983 in the magistrates' courts. Of those we prosecuted, 93,106 defendants were convicted in the Crown Court and 727,491 in the magistrates' courts. In total 86% of cases prosecuted resulted in a conviction. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  5. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.