A coroner has apologised to the families of 11 men who were killed in the Shoreham airshow tragedy for having to wait so long for an inquest into their deaths to resume.
The West Sussex senior coroner, Penelope Schofield, expressed her “deepest regret” that delays to the inquest had added to the ordeal endured by relatives of those who died.
The victims of the disaster died after a plane taking part in an aerial display in August 2015 crashed on to the nearby A27 in West Sussex. A further 13 people were injured in the incident.
Resuming the inquest in Horsham, Schofield said: “On a sunny summer day on 22 August 2015 at around 1.32pm, 11 men were killed and numerous other people suffered significant injuries when a former military Hawker Hunter aircraft ladened with fuel doing an aerobatic display at the Shoreham airshow crashed on to the A27 in the most horrific circumstances.”
She added: “I can only express my deepest regret that the ordeal of all the bereaved has been added to by the time it has taken for these inquests to be heard.
“You have all tolerated a far longer wait for these inquest hearings to commence than I would ever have wished for. I am so sorry you have waited so long.”
Some of the victims were watching the event from a grass verge near the Shoreham airport entrance, while others were in cars travelling on the road or crossing it on foot.
The pilot of the Hawker Hunter plane, Andrew 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 will not be called as a witness at the inquest having submitted evidence to the investigation.
The inquest into the 11 deaths was originally opened on 2 September 2015 but was adjourned in 2018 due to the criminal trial.
It resumed in March 2019 after the trial, but hearings set for September 2020 were again postponed due to the pandemic.
A pre-inquest review was heard on 1 September, when Schofield said the inquest “would not reinvestigate the crash”, as this evidence had been provided by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
The 11 victims were Anthony Brightwell, 53, from Hove; Daniele Polito, 23, from Goring-by-Sea; Dylan Archer, 42, from Brighton; Jacob Schilt, 23, from Brighton; James Mallinson, 72, from Newick; Mark Reeves, 53, from Seaford; Mark Trussler, 54, from Worthing; Matthew Grimstone, 23, from Brighton; Matthew Jones, 24, from Littlehampton; Maurice Abrahams, 76, from Brighton; and Richard Smith, 26, from Hove.
Parents and families appeared at Wednesday’s hearing to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and lament the “horrific” circumstances in which they died.
In a pen portrait read on their behalf, the family of 72-year-old James Graham Mallinson described him as a “true gentleman” and the “kindest, gentlest and most generous of men”.
The father of 23-year-old footballer Matthew Grimstone paid an emotional tribute to his “talented, funny, loving and handsome” son.
Grimstone died while on his way to a Worthing United game with team-mate, 23-year-old Jacob Schilt.
His father, Phil, told the inquest: “Matthew lost his life due to an aircraft being flown purely for entertainment – for fun, for those attending an airshow. This is something we find hard to comprehend and difficult to bear. All his hopes, all his dreams, all the things he never got to do.”
The inquest continues on Friday.