Latest Meeting Leaves Families ‘Disappointed’ With Responses
British families among those challenging the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) concluded between Boeing and the US Government behind closed doors say the latest meeting with the Department of Justice (DoJ) leaves them ‘disappointed’ and still seeking answers.
The meeting at the end of November followed the families’ success in a legal challenge that finally saw them acknowledged as “crime victims” after their loved ones were killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash in 2019.
Most of the families of British victims, who are being represented by Irwin Mitchell’s specialist aviation team, joined the latest meeting with the DoJ online. The five-hour meeting left families feeling frustrated and concerned by the DoJ’s answers and refusal to comment on key issues:
- Correspondence concerning how the DPA with Boeing was agreed will not be released
- No explanation was given for how the DPA was determined to be in victims’ best interests, when families were not even considered victims until very recently
- No comment on if Boeing’s airline customers were consulted on the DPA, when passenger victims’ families were not
- No explanation as to why Texas was chosen, over other potential jurisdictions.
- No comment on how the public can have confidence that Boeing will comply with DPA conditions, until the company is released from them in 2024
On 7 January 2021, the US Government charged Boeing with conspiracy to defraud the US in relation to the certification process of the new 737 MAX series aircraft. It’s alleged that certain software characteristics of the MAX (a system known as MCAS) were – for commercial reasons – concealed from the regulator.
In the DPA, Boeing admitted to the Government’s statement of facts and accepted responsibility for the acts charged. They had sought to argue the “victim” of the crime was the Federal Aviation Administration (misled about how the aircraft operates), rather than the families of the victims.
The erroneous activation of the MCAS system caused the deaths of 346 people in the loss of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019.
The families had to wait for media reports to learn that Boeing and the DoJ had settled Boeing’s criminal liability after private negotiations, resulting in the DPA. The families who lost loved ones were never consulted on this agreement, which is a possible violation of US Federal Law.
Expert Opinion“While the families were relieved to be finally recognised as victims in criminal proceedings against Boeing, the DoJ meeting has left them disappointed and feeling their core questions remain unanswered.
“The DoJ said they would be happy to look at further evidence but much of this remains under protective order relating to civil proceedings and while they said they would think about having this lifted, the families we support are not holding their breath on that.
“The refusal to release correspondence, the inability to answer the questions posed, plus the fact the meeting was not transcribed or recorded leaves the families with the impression, rightly or wrongly, that there’s something to hide. All this while we still await the official accident report.
“It’s an appalling state of affairs still to be in after all this time and while Boeing may yet have to face more serious criminal law charges, families’ legitimate concerns remain unaddressed.
“The families feel that senior personnel at Boeing have never been called to account for their actions/wrongdoings and very concerned that their loved ones were not recognised as victims of crime until now, when they may have no opportunity to influence the DPA.
“Latest events show how crucial it is that the issues are considered in public. Plea bargaining behind closed doors in such a case was never going to satisfy the families or the travelling public and we’ll continue to support our clients’ fight for justice, accountability and transparency.” Vincent Nichol, Solicitor
Adrian Toole, whose daughter Joanna was killed in the ET302 crash, said: “Although the families are pleased to be formally recognised as crime victims, it is disappointing we’ve had to pursue a complex legal challenge to even achieve that status. Although liability has been admitted, we’ve found the criminal justice system in the US makes it very difficult to hold individuals responsible.
“Moreover, in originally accepting that my daughter was not a victim of crime, the DoJ had acquiesced in blocking the bereaved families from any participation in the process.
“This latest meeting with the DoJ simply reinforces the view that they don’t seem to understand our concerns or determination to be part of this process and see justice is done. Even now it’s disappointing and concerning that this remains the case and that we must keep pushing for answers.
“The most important thing for us has always been that there is accountability and lessons are learned, so the conduct that caused these crashes won’t happen again. Determined campaigning and legal action by the families and our advisors is winning against corporate manoeuvring."
Mark Pegram, the father of Sam Pegram, who was working for the Norwegian Refugee Council when he died in the crash of ET302, said: “All we have ever wanted is justice for Sam. I can only hope something positive comes out of these criminal proceedings that helps to achieve that, and that the Court provides some meaningful relief. No family should have to go through what we have been through.”
Most of the British victims’ families are being represented by Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Aviation Law Team, including Sallie Booth and Vincent Nichol, who are supporting the families in ongoing civil court proceedings against Boeing in Chicago, USA, together with US lawyers.
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy and other air crashes at our aviation section.