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RACHEL FISK — SERVICE INQUIRY REPORT 2

  • Posted on 21 May 2024
  • 42 min read

Foreword

Ian Marshall in his Red Devils days

Following on from the article by Mark Briggs CMIOSH on the Service Inquiry Report (SIR) into RAF Sgt Rachel Fisk’s death in a skydiving accident in September 2021, Ian Marshall takes a look at the operating manual known as CAP 660, cited as Exhibit 07 in the SIR. CAP 660 is co-produced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the British Parachuting Association (BPA) now trading as British Skydiving (BS).  

Ian Marshall — who served with 2 PARA, Pathfinder Platoon, the Red Devils and has over 12,500 parachute jumps and has dozens of championships, gold medals and parachuting records — is well-placed to comment; Ian was a director of the British Parachuting Association now trading as British Skydiving for twenty-seven years.

Sgt Fisk’s superiors — amongst others —  appeared to believe that the CAA and BS were the enforcing authorities  in relation not just to civilian but also to military parachuting and treated CAP 660 as if it were statutory law. However, HERMES has seen correspondence indicating that the Health and Safety Executive intends to intervene after the Fisk inquest.

If it transpires, as contended by senior HSE officials, that the CAA and BS have misrepresented themselves as the UK parachuting enforcing authority and that parachuting is not an aviation matter per se, this will impact in various ways not just on civilian but also on military parachuting.

Commenting to HERMES after reading the Service Inquiry Report, Major John Horne Ret’d, former Chair of the Army Parachute Association’s Safety and Training Committee, said; “It would appear that somebody has shirked their responsibly, and in so doing has betrayed the military.”.

The late Sgt Fisk is just one of the of many skydiving fatalities on British Skydiving’s watch. As long ago as March 2005, a former BPA national safety official told a coroner’s court that he had investigated sixty deaths in the UK. The coroner was conducting an inquest into the death of Army Officer Cadet Stephen Hilder, which was the subject of a police murder enquiry.

RACHEL FISK — SERVICE INQUIRY REPORT 2

CAP 660 – A codified evasion of Health and Safety Law

By Ian Marshall

Sgt Rachel Fisk — Requiescat in Pacem

In HERMES’ opening article on the Sgt Fisk affair and the related Service Inquiry Report — which impacts upon all UK parachutists whether civilian or military — my colleague Mark Briggs CMIOSH provided a unique overview from the perspective of both a Chartered Health and Safety Practitioner and, like me, a Government-trained and qualified paratrooper and skydiver.

Professional opinion has standing which is difficult to challenge, even in the Courts. It is, as the name suggests, an opinion provided by a Charted Professional that is objective and substantive, and founded in law; it is formed from data, science, evidence and principles, and supported by education, training and relevant experience

I am not a Chartered Health and Safety Practitioner but my curriculum vitae speaks for itself in the context of all kinds of military and civilian parachuting and I believe I have earned to right to comment. I was also for twenty-seven years a director of the British Parachuting Association — which now trades as British Skydiving — so I am well-placed to know that the various BS ratings and ‘qualifications’ have no basis in any official system nor under any authority. Like Mark, I have professional indemnity cover.

I intend to take readers through Exhibit 07 of the Service Inquiry Report, namely the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) administrative policy document CAP 660 – Parachuting.

In one ministerial level complaint against the CAA-BS partnership, which remains extant, CAP 660 was described as “a codified evasion of Health and Safety law”. It is well-known that British Skydiving and many of their affiliated Parachute Training Organisations (PTOs) are averse to Health and Safety law. The  former BS Chief Operating Officer was even on record as telling BS-affiliated PTOs that “HSE are a danger […].”.

Murdered? Army Officer Cadet Stephen Hilder

Years before, in March 2005, this individual had established his credentials before the coroner investigating the death of Army Officer Cadet Stephen Hilder by stating he had investigated sixty deaths as one of two BPA national safety officers.

Hilder’s death was also the subject of a police murder investigation although nobody was ever charged. Hilder had been agitating for improvements in safety and changes in BPA management and governance structures. Hilder’s rigging lines had been cut overnight with a special kind of rigging knife but the BPA pushed hard for a suicide verdict.

Sgt Rachel Fisk’s superior officers believed that CAA and British Skydiving oversight of civilian and some military parachuting in the UK was legal and that the jointly-published guidelines contained in CAP 600 were statutory law, an belief that both the CAA and British Skydiving seem to have promoted as correct.

After Sgt Fisk’s terrible death at Weston-on-the-Green in September 2021, an RAF spokesman made a statement to the national press that included such statements as “she did not die in vain” and “what went wrong in her jump may help to prevent another tragedy.”.

The circumstances and underlying issues that relate to Rachel’s death certainly pertain to and impact on public safety and on the safety of our service personnel which, in turn, is a matter for public concern. Consequently, there exists an implicit requirement for openness and transparency.

Openness and transparency were missing from the Service Inquiry Report, which failed to include the Health and Safety Executive contravention and compliance notices sent to Sgt Fisk’s superiors less than a month after her death. So were other documents one would have expect to see, like the CAA-issued Parachuting Permission.

After all, British Skydiving and its willing helper the CAA are on record as not recognising British military parachuting qualifications and Sgt Fisk’s superior officers are also on record as recognising British Skydiving as some sort of national enforcing authority so where is the Parachuting Permission from British Skydiving’s tame quango?

Seven years ago — 2017 — when establishing the Pegasus Display Team, I asked Mark Briggs to join me. His military career and experience aside, he is a Chartered Health and Safety Practitioner and, like me, has advised and worked on cinema and television productions in relation to parachuting and skydiving.

I requested that he review the then current CAA document CAP 660  — 2008, Version 4 — as I was led to believe that the Pegasus Display Team would be required to conduct [work-related] display parachuting activities in accordance with the promulgated rules and guidelines therein. We had been encountering obstructiveness from the CAA and BPA and I did not quite understand why.

Undertaking this task must have irked Mark somewhat. A couple of hours after sending the document I received a rather irate telephone call. Once I had filtered out all the Anglo-Saxon terminology and then attempted to make him translate all the legal jargon into plain English, Mark sent me an expensive copy of Blacks Law a few days later.

Mark asked: “Does this triumvirate of belligerents really believe they are deceiving everyone or just the vacuous and credulous with this unlawfully codified dystopian construct?”. This was certainly a new perspective; I knew that BS — then British Parachuting Association Ltd — and the CAA had been colluding for decades but who else was involved? What did Mark mean?

“It’s hidden in plain sight!’, he said. “You should know, you were part of it, to a greater or lesser extent, for many years. Open your eyes and follow the money. Who else benefits?”. He meant the RAF — or that part of it then involved in army parachuting training. The Army is obliged to give the RAF £50 million per annum for parachute training, from which large sums are siphoned off for the RAF Falcons.

A Skyvan similar to those hired by the RAF for BPC at Brize Norton

To put this in perspective for readers, the RAF’s Basic Parachute Course (BPC) costs the taxpayer a reported £40k per jumper. Today, the BPC consists of just four clean fatigue jumps from civilian-contracted Skyvans. Afterwards, army parachutists must complete equipment and night jumps at battalion level to become combat-ready paratroopers — when the RAF makes the aircraft available.

Round or military-style parachute clubs and veterans’ teams like the Pegasus Display Team can put men through training and refresher courses comprising five clean fatigue jumps for less than a tenth of the price charged by the RAF. This is despite the fact that we have to go abroad to Holland to do their NATO-approved wings course because we are effectively barred from training and jumping in our own country.

In other words, we seem to be a liability to the RAF and to BS-affiliated PTOs engaged in the lucrative tandem-jumping racket. We can undercut them all in price and without breaking Health and Safety law. The CA is something of a post-retirement sinecure for RAF top brass and even some middle-ranking staff officers.

Coming back to CAP 660, Mark then asked me: “Send me a copy of the original document – CAP 660 (Version 1) 1996 – the one[in your possession that you deliberately omitted to tell me about — which states that work-related parachuting activity is subject to the Health and Safety at Work etc. 1974.”.

A few weeks later I gave Mark the Parachuting Permission issued to the Pegasus Display Team by the CAA in relation to our first parachute display jump in the UK. This would take place at Headcorn during the Battle of Britain Air Show.

The Permission stated: “All operations of the Team shall be conducted in accordance with the relevant provision of the British Skydiving Operations Manual for the time being in force and which has been submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority and the applicable requirements stated in CAP 660.”.         

After studying the three-page document for a few minutes, Mark remarked: “Interesting, a get out of jail free card. I don’t think HSE would be very impressed. it does, however, make my life a lot easier if you kill somebody. Accidentally!”.

This explained an awful lot: the BPA t/a British Skydiving have been ‘killing’ people with monotonous regularity over a long period of time. We all remembered Tony Butler standing up at the Stephen Hilder inquest in 2005 and telling the Coroner that he had personally investigated sixty deaths as a BPA National Safety Officer. The victims have continued to pile up since then and that is without talking about those who survived but are crippled for life.

Coming back to the Service Inquiry Report on Sgt Fisk, these are the same unqualified British Skydiving charlatans with whom it is recommended that the MOD should develop an even closer working relationship.

Acting under the advice of legal counsel, the Panel of the Service Inquiry (SI) states:

1.3.5. Parachuting within the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

b. Sports parachuting. Sports parachuting was understood by the panel to be regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and British Skydiving which operated as the United Kingdom National Governing Body (NGB).

In support of this contentious declaration, the Service Inquiry Report subsequently references Exhibit 07: CAP 660 – Parachuting, and explains the Panel’s derived supposition further:

1.4.270. The CAA was the regulatory authority for sports parachuting in the UK, as defined in Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 660. This document acknowledged British Skydiving as the National Governing Body for sports parachuting and stated that:

‘The British Skydiving Operations Manual, as amended, represents the accepted standard for sport parachuting in the United Kingdom (UK) and British Skydiving Parachute Training Organisations (PTOs) and Display Teams must adhere to the provisions and guidance in that manual in order to achieve an acceptable level of safety in the conduct of their operations.’“.

As Mark Twain said during his autobiographical dictation in 1906: “The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance. […] How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”.

Following the [re]publication of CAP 660 (Version 5) in April 2020, the Pegasus Display Team submitted a number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to various Government Agencies, including MOD, in respect of the requisite [R v Brent London Borough Council ex parte Gunning]duty to consult [pre-issuance process criteria], as implemented [R (Eveleigh and others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions], and subsequent scope and applicability of this CAA [administrative] policy.

As it transpired, the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) was consulted directly — and highly irregularly — by British Skydiving, rather than by the CAA as required, as part of the Stakeholder Consultation stage. The MAA, originally set up because of security-related concerns about the CAA, would later state: “You can only parachute under the RAF or British Skydiving.”.

Another, separate, response from the MOD to the PDT FOI application alleged that CAP 660 did not affect or otherwise impact on JSAT parachuting “as these activities are conducted under JSP arrangements.”.

Therefore — and this is relevant to the Sgt Fisk affair — the MOD had fair and reasonable opportunity — subject to legal counsel’s opinion — to adequately review the content of CAP 660 in order to clarify particulars of concern, raise relevant objections or rebut, as necessary. 

Mark’s comments regarding the FOI-related formal responses were, as always, very enlightening: “It is most likely of little consequence who was consulted in respect to CAP 660, and to what extent any of these agencies are complicit or otherwise have connived with CAA-BS. I would strongly suggest that it will prove much more important, precisely which Enforcing Authority was [most likely, deliberately] not consulted, and what their [re]action(s) will be, given time, and circumstance.”.

SubjectCAA responsibilityHSE/LA responsibility
Parachuting – from civilian aircraftOperators must hold CAA permission – similar to a licence. Airworthiness of aircraft and activity leading to a parachuting permission.Enforcement of health and safety on the ground. Enforcement of health and safety law in relation to some aspects of parachuting.
CAA/HSE/HSENI MOU, CAP 1484: Table 6 – page 42

Further information in respect to parachuting is detailed in CAP 1484 CAA/HSE/HSENI Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) guidance — Chapter 6: Flying for personal transportation, recreational flying and parachuting; including arrangements that ‘should’ [have been] implemented regarding management across the regulatory interface.

When enquiries were made with HSE in regard to CAP 660 — Parachuting, HSE reportedly had no knowledge of this document. If it should prove to be correct that HSE was not included in the Stakeholder Consultation stage, this would immediately invalidate and nullify CAP 660. It also raise questions regarding documented CAA misrepresentations to HSE.

The HSE wrote to the Pegasus Display Team last year setting out the HSE position with respect to the statutory regulation of parachuting activity conducted at work or in connection with work. The letter, from a senior HSE inspector, stated:

“It should also be noted that the enforcement of HSWA for parachuting activities is split between HSE and Local Authorities and is dependent on the type of parachuting activity. In general terms, parachuting undertaken purely as a leisure activity would fall to the Local Authority, whilst parachuting activities undertaken as part of film production would fall to HSE for enforcement.

“In relation to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), HSE would like to remind you that there will be some elements of the parachuting activity, namely the airworthiness of the aircraft and matters carried out within the aircraft, that would continue to fall within scope of the legislation enforced by the CAA.”.

Continuing with the topic of HSE exclusion from due process, it is worth reiterating that the HSE Crown Improvement Notice was omitted from the Service Inquiry Report. It should further be noted that another document missing from the Service Inquiry report was the Parachuting Permission issued to JSAT Weston on the Green by the CAA, subject to British Skydiving’s recommendation or approval.

The quality, accuracy and reliability of statutory regulation and compliance audits are fundamental to stakeholder trust and the wider confidence of the general public. The role of the CAA as the Enforcing Authority in relation to aviation legislation should be to set the standards and make a critical contribution to trust.

Yet, the CAA has time and time again found itself the subject of tough and persistent criticism, from the House of Lords down to those that the CAA oversee, in relation to over-regulation and bias. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the CAA’s directorate denies bias in any of its dealings but its officials seem to be singing from different songsheets.

Phillip Clarke, CAA Business Manager of the Chair and CEO, wrote: “You have suggested that the CAA would act so as to favour or disadvantage one particular group at the bidding of another group or organisation. There is no evidence that supports this suggestion.”.

Senior Flights Standards Officer George Duncan of the CAA’s General Aviation branch, responsible for issuing Parachuting and Special Parachuting Permissions, made the CAA position clearer: “I know the BPA are difficult to deal with, and I know that they are a monopoly, but I like it that way.”.

Rob Bishton, CAA Safety Director (now CAA CEO), wrote: “Executives of the CAA represent the CAA position and that which reflects government policy. I assure you that you will receive a reply in due course and after due consideration, given that much of what is being referred to predates those of us in office at this time.”.

Rob Bishton’s duly considered and promised reply was never forthcoming but it is doubtful that HM Government condones creating commercial monopolies and aiding and abetting wholesale evasion of Health and Safety law. Moreover, claiming that this was all in place before the current management arrived is no defence if said new management fails to act to end wrongdoing.  

According to BS Publicity Consultant Angel Fernandez: “Acquiring a CAA approval to perform regulatory tasks was a major step […]”. Mr Fernandez was stating the obvious. Once power has been obtained, by whatever means, fair or foul, controlling entities of every sort are seduced and corrupted by the game of power. Moving forward, they focus upon one thing and one thing only, staying in power; it becomes their prime directive, sometimes regardless of any logic or rationale.

British Skydiving lost no time in capitalising on its elevation to effective quango status by the CAA, an elevation that would normally be in the remit of the Secretary of State for Transport. Their website proclaimed: “British Skydiving controls all aspects of skydiving on behalf of the Civil Aviation Authority”. Well, if it was on their website, it had to be true, didn’t it?

The CAA has ultra vires handed over safety regulation — via the absolute application of CAP 660 — of non-aviation, work-related parachuting activity to an unqualified and incompetent commercial sports franchiser with a shocking safety record for around £30,000 in annual fees.

Notwithstanding that parachuting is not legally within the CAA remit, scope nor material jurisdiction, this quango seems have to aided and abetted British Skydiving’s plans to monopolise civilian and, as the Sgt Fisk case reminds us, military sports parachuting by militating against freedoms and protections encapsulated in overarching legislation and the law.

In 1996 the British Parachuting Association Ltd now trading as British Skydiving (BS) agreed an Exposition and Schedule of Approval with the Civil Aviation Authority [updated] Reference No. 20191212-Approval 268 ANO2016.

Although this document should have always been in the public domain and therefore maintained as readily available, this ‘Exposition’ remained hidden from members, including directors, and non-members alike until senior management was compelled to disclose it in 2021.

This highly questionable document, which is also referenced by the Service Inquiry report [Exhibit 08], will form the basis of another article in this series as, like CAP 660, it amounts in part to an exercise in evasion of Health and Safety law.

BS publicity man Angel Fernandez wrote: “Attempts by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to exercise control over parachute equipment standards and to investigate skydiving incidents and accidents; a move which finally resulted in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding whereby the HSE relinquished their position and acknowledged the expertise of British Skydiving […].”.

Mr Fernandez had either been inaccurately briefed by his clients or was making the porkies up himself because the HSE has no record of any such Memorandum of Understanding with British Skydiving. Mr [Name Redacted], HM Principal Inspector, was unequivocal: “HSE have no record of a Memorandum of Understanding with British Skydiving; as far as HSE are aware, there has been no interaction between HSE and this sports body.”.

Smoke and Mirrors Supremo Dr Goebbels

Undoubtedly the lies have been built upon lies, upon further lies, over several decades, ultimately serving to square the triangle of the three-ring circus. As Nazi propaganda guru Josef Goebbels remarked : “If you repeat a lie big enough and often enough, it becomes accepted as truth. A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth, for truth is the mortal enemy of the lie. Propaganda works best when those that are being manipulated are confident that they are acting of their own free will.”.

The CAA, as agents of the state, are not entitled to coerce others merely because they are agents of the state. It is however, clearly evident to any reasonable observer that the CAA will always brief what is in the CAA’s interest despite fact or truth, and that the CAA is an entity unto itself, answerable only to itself, and will always act upon those needs that the CAA ‘thinks fit’ in order to sustain itself and its preferential interests.

They say so themselves in CAP 1326: “We will not alter our course just because we have been challenged, whether through a legal case or other action. We accept that, in some instances, our enforcement actions may be overruled. This risk of challenge will not deter us from pursuing a course of action […].”.                                       

In an exclusive interview with Pilot Magazine in September 2021, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, revealed that the institutional framework of the CAA would be changed by introducing a new system to make sure that there is proper and fair execution of justice, by having an independent panel.

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP

Shapps, who is currently Defence Secretary, said: “Ending up in court […] is essentially the only way to appeal the CAA […] because at the moment there is no appeal, an appeal goes back to the same people who made the original decision – I don’t think the CAA should be the judge, the jury and the executioner.”    

Nemo judex cause sua is a Latin term meaning that no man shall be the judge of his own case. There certainly seems to be a case to be heard, given the apparently deliberate nature of the connivance of some CAA officials with British Skydiving — animus nocendi — not just to create and maintain a lucrative skydiving monopoly but also to facilitate evasion of Health and Safety law. As British Skydiving COO Tony Butler said: “HSE are a danger […]. Your employees are not at work; the Health and Safety at Work Act is not applicable; British Skydiving is here to protect you.”.

Except for all the parachutists and skydivers who ended up in coffins and wheelchairs because of dubious safety policies and practices the British Parachuting Association t/a British Skydiving watch, under the protection of the CAA. Perhaps, as the RAF spokesman told the media, Rachel Fisk’s death will not have been in vain. If it serves to put an end to the usurpation of parachuting oversight and enforced powers, many lives are likely to be saved.

Commenting to HERMES after reading the Service Inquiry report, Major John Horne Ret’d, former Chair of the Army Parachute Association’s (APA) Safety and Training Committee, said: “It would appear that somebody has shirked their responsibility, and in so doing, has betrayed the military.”.

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