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The BBC's Tom Symonds
"Relatives who attended the public inquiries want new guidelines for post-mortems following disasters"
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The BBC's Roger Harrabin
"At last there is hope now the families will find out what went wrong"
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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 01:06 GMT
Families await Marchioness report
The sinking of the Marchioness claimed 51 lives
The first official account into why the riverboat the Marchioness sank into the River Thames killing 51 people on board is set to be published.

Lord Justice Clarke's public inquiry report is expected to criticise the captain of a huge dredger which rammed into the pleasure cruiser in August 1989.

Relatives of the victims of the disaster have waited nearly 12 years for the release of Lord Justice Clarke's public inquiry report into the tragedy.

A second report will concentrate on why the hands of the victims were removed to enable finger prints to be taken.

The Marchioness sank on the night of 20 August 1989 when it collided with the dredger Bowbelle.

We have made the authorities look at a whole range of issues and they are now going to have to address those issues

Margaret Lockwood Croft

There were 132 people on board celebrating a birthday party.

Crusade over

Margaret Lockwood Croft, administrator for the Marchioness Action Group, lost her 26-year-old son Shaun in the tragedy.

She said the group had fought for years to convince ministers that only a public airing of the facts would suffice.

"The report coming out will be a relief for many of us," she said.

Shaun Lockwood Croft
Shaun Lockwood Croft: Died in the tragedy
"Getting to this point has been a crusade and now we can move on. There is a sense of having completed a long race."

Mrs Lockwood Croft, 66, of Aldershot, Hampshire, said the death of her son Shaun, a telecommunications manager, had left "an emptiness inside".

"Our loss will always be with us. We cope with it, but not without tears."

Action group committee member Shirley Bourke lost her stepdaughter Jane, 20, on the Marchioness.

She told BBC News Online she hoped the report would provide answers after years of delay and secrecy.

She said not knowing the truth had denied bereaved families part of the grieving process which would allow them to move forward with their lives.

Mrs Bourke, 41, of Croydon, said she hoped there would also be positive recommendations for change that will be useful to people who use the river.

Dredger captain acquitted

After the disaster, the then Conservative government refused campaigners' repeated requests for a public inquiry.

The Marine Accident Investigation Board inquiry into the sinking found the immediate cause was the failure of the lookouts on both vessels.

But the families of the victims believed important facts on the causes of the disaster had been overlooked and continued to press for a full inquiry.

The skipper of the Marchioness, Stephen Faldo, died in the accident.

Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson
Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson was acquitted of failing to keep a proper watch
But the master of the Bowbelle dredger Captain Douglas Henderson was tried twice for failing to maintain a proper lookout.

The jury failed to agree a verdict on both occasions.

Families heard during the public inquiry that Mr Henderson had been drinking before starting work on the night of the accident and was involved in two later accidents.

In 1995, an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing on the Marchioness dead, but in 1996 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with any further prosecutions.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ordered a public inquiry which got under way in October 2000.

Among the issues that will be considered in Lord Justice Clarke's report will be:

  • the ability of both vessels to see each other
  • the exact location of the collision
  • the system of lookouts on both vessels
  • the means of escape on the Marchioness
  • the search and rescue procedures and their operation on the night.
Lord Justice Clarke will also publish a separate report from an inquiry into the identification of victims following major transport accidents.

This inquiry was prompted by families' concerns when they learnt that the hands of around half the Marchioness victims had been removed for identification purposes.

Many safety recommendations made by the MAIB and from a separate Clarke report into general River Thames safety have already been implemented.

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23 Mar 01 | UK
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