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The BBC's Tom Symonds
"A string of operational and management failures on the River Thames"
 real 56k

The BBC's Roger Harrabin
"At last there is hope now the families will find out what went wrong"
 real 28k

Margaret Lockwood Croft, Marchioness Action Group
"None of us can undo the sadness and tragedy of the event"
 real 56k

Friday, 23 March, 2001, 13:00 GMT
Marchioness report blames skippers
Marchioness
The sinking of the Marchioness claimed 51 lives
The official inquiry into the sinking of the Marchioness riverboat has blamed the captains and owners of both vessels for the disaster.

Fifty-one people died on board the Marchioness on 20 August 1989 when it was rammed by a huge dredger, the Bowbelle, on the River Thames.

Lord Justice Clarke's report blamed poor lookouts on both vessels for the collision, and criticised owners and managers for failing to properly instruct and monitor their crews.


Neither vessel saw the other in time to take action to avoid the collision

Lord Justice Clarke
A second report criticised Westminster pathologist Dr Paul Knapman for the decision to remove the hands of 20 victims for identification, saying this "should not have happened".

The report into the sinking said: "The basic cause of the collision is clear. It was poor lookout on both vessels. Neither vessel saw the other in time to take action to avoid the collision."

Lord Clarke, who described the sinking as a "catastrophe which should never have happened", was highly critical of the master of the Bowbelle, Captain Douglas Henderson.

The inquiry heard that Captain Henderson had been drinking on the day of the accident, though it was believed no alcohol remained in his system by the time of the crash.

Lord Justice Clarke
Lord Justice Clarke examined safety issues and rescue procedures
Captain Henderson also failed to provide any rescue assistance.

"He should have broadcast a Mayday and he should have deployed both the lifebuoys on the Bowbelle and her liferaft," said Lord Clarke.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said the Director of Public Prosecutions would "consider whether action would be appropriate against Captain Henderson or any other party".

Mr Prescott added that the government would act on the report's 30 safety recommendations.

Victims' relatives welcomed Lord Clarke's findings, for which they have waited nearly 12 years.

'Hard-hitting and thorough'

Spokeswoman Margaret Lockwood-Croft said the reports were "hard-hitting and thorough".

"We fully support the recommendations, particularly for stricter alcohol regulations on waterways and for search and rescue services on our rivers."

Lawyer Michael Napier, who represented the relatives' action group, said: "The reports place the blame for the disaster squarely on the shoulders of the managers and owners of the Bowbelle and Marchioness who, the reports say, fell below the standards which would have been adopted by any reasonable shipowner."

Margaret Lockwood-Croft, who lost a son, Shaun, in the tragedy
Margaret Lockwood-Croft: Recommendations backed
Bowbelle was owned by East Coast Aggregates and managed by South Coast Shipping, while the Marchioness was owned and managed by Tidal Cruises.

The former Department of Transport was criticised by Lord Justice Clarke, who said it was "well aware of the problems posed by the limited visibility from the steering positions" of both vessels.

The Port of London Authority was also criticised for not ordering such boats to station a forward lookout in contact with the wheelhouse.

The Metropolitan Police service, Lord Clarke said, "was ill-prepared" for the accident, with no specific plan to deal with a major river disaster and few rescue craft available.

But he said the police "simply did their best with the resources available to them".

The victims were among 132 passengers who had been celebrating a birthday party on the pleasure cruiser.

The families' requests for a public inquiry were initially refused, but a Marine Accident Investigation Board inquiry blamed the failure of lookouts on both vessels for the disaster.

Captain cleared

But victims' families continued pressing for a full inquiry, believing important facts had been overlooked.

Captain Henderson was tried twice for failing to maintain a proper lookout, but the jury failed to agree a verdict both times.

Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson
Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson was acquitted of failing to keep a proper watch

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

In 1995, an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing on the victims, but no further prosecutions were pursued.

The public inquiry, ordered by John Prescott, got under way in October 2000.

The second report was prompted when the Marchioness families learned that the hands of about half the victims had been removed for fingerprinting.

"The hands should not have been removed and Dr Knapman must bear the responsibility for the fact that they were," Lord Clarke said.

But he added that the coroner had been acting "in good faith and with the best of intentions".

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

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23 Mar 01 | UK
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