Des Browne last night pledged to give "serious consideration" to the attempt by campaigners to clear the names of two pilots controversially blamed for a helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre in which 29 people died.

However, the Defence Secretary stopped short of promising a full review of the case at this stage.

Yesterday, he was handed a dossier by Martin O'Neill, the ex-MP and now Labour peer.

Mr O'Neill, together with fellow parliamentarians across the parties, relatives of the pilots and other members of the Mull of Kintyre Campaign Group, believes natural justice demands the Special Forces airmen - Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper 30, from Norfolk and Rick Cook, 28, from Hampshire - should have their names cleared.

"We have had a constructive meeting with Des Browne, who listened to the case we made and promised to read the report," Lord O'Neill told The Herald last night.

"We are confident that within the report there is enough evidence to require him to think again about the decision of the RAF Board of Inquiry. We want it annulled and the pilots exonerated."

He pointed out how the campaign believed its report included evidence not available to the original investigation.

The peer added that the campaign was not imposing a deadline on the Secretary of State and wanted him to consider its report thoroughly, but he hoped a decision would be forthcoming in a matter of weeks.

All 29 people on board the Chinook were killed when it crashed into a fog-bound hillside on June 2, 1994.

It was on its way from RAF Aldergrove, near Belfast, to Fort George, near Inverness.

Those on board included members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary's elite special branch along with Northern Ireland Office officials and members of MI5.

It was the worst peacetime accident involving a helicopter to befall the RAF and, at the time, the loss of the cream of Northern Ireland's intelligence officers was a major blow to the Conservative government's attempts to quell the IRA.

Initially, the pilots, who had exemplary records, were cleared of any blame. An RAF Board of Inquiry ruled it was impossible to establish the exact cause of the crash and a fatal accident inquiry came to the same conclusion.

However, in reviewing the verdict, two senior RAF officers - Air Vice-Marshal John Day and Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten - overturned it. They insisted the pilots were culpable and accused them of "gross negligence", saying they were flying too low and too fast in thick fog.

Campaigners have long argued that the verdict by the RAF's top brass was unfair and unfounded.

They have pointed to problems with the aircraft's software - the Full Authority Digital Engine Control computer system - which could have been a major factor.

There were also warnings the helicopter's rotors sped up and slowed down for no reason and suggestions the controls could have jammed.

Over the years, the case of Chinook XD576 has become something of a cause celebre with a cross-party committee of peers finding the pilots could not be blamed. Yet, thus far, the Ministry of Defence has refused to budge.

Last night, a departmental spokeswoman, said: "The Secretary of State has received an oral briefing and a written report from the Mull of Kintyre Group.

"He has agreed to give serious consideration to its contents. The MoD has always stated that if any new evidence were presented, it would be closely examined and, if appropriate, consideration would be given to reconsidering the case. This does not, as yet, amount to an agreement to review the case."