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The BBC's Alison Holt
"There will now be a wide ranging enquiry"
 real 28k

John Prescott
"There must never be a repeat of those events"
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Monday, 14 February, 2000, 21:23 GMT
Marchioness inquiry welcomed

Fifty-one people died in the 1989 tragedy

There is to be a full public inquiry into the 1989 Marchioness riverboat disaster, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has announced.

The Marchioness disaster
20 August 1989 - Boat collides with the Bowbelle, a 1,475-tonne dredger. Fifty-one people die, 80 survive
1991 - Bowbelle captain cleared of failing to keep proper lookout
1992 - Confirmation that hands of deceased were removed
1995 - Inquest returns verdict of unlawful killing
1996 - Crown Prosecution Service rules insufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings
The news has been welcomed by survivors and families of the victims, who said they were "over the moon" that their 10-year battle for answers had been recognised.

The riverboat sank on London's River Thames in August 1989, killing 51 people, but campaigners say the full story has never been told.

Mr Prescott said: "The Marchioness families have lived with grief for 10 years.

"A new public inquiry cannot bring their loved ones back but it can, I hope, bring some peace of mind."

Mr Prescott said the new inquiry would have the power to obtain documents, issue summons for the attendance of witnesses and take evidence on oath.

"The Marchioness disaster was the last and worst of a series of collisions on the Thames," he said.

"It raises concerns about boat design, numbers of crew, the readiness of emergency services and the way people were treated after an incident."

Marchioness relatives Jubilant relatives met up in London to hear the decision
The government's main purpose now was to look to future safety on rivers, he said.

Lord Justice Clarke, who will chair the inquiry, recommended a public inquiry last year to look into the collision between the Marchioness pleasure boat and the Bowbelle dredger.

Mr Prescott also said that he was to set up a non-statutory public inquiry into the removal of the hands from the victims for fingerprints, to run alongside the first inquiry.

Relatives of the victims and survivors of the disaster heard the news during a meeting with Mr Prescott.

Shirley Bennett said she was thrilled by the government's decision.

'Over the moon'

"I'm over the moon, although it is not before time, it's been 10 years.

"This inquiry will allow us to know what happened on that night," she said.

Another of those at the meeting, Malcolm Williams, who survived the disaster, added: "The inquiry will heal a lot of pain, a lot of hurt and anger.

Shirley Bennett Shirley Bennett: "We've waited 10 years for this"
"I have waited 10 years to find out why I was left struggling for my life in the water."

The families believe that an inquiry is the only way the events of that night will be properly examined.

They want to know why the disaster happened on such a still clear night, why more people were not rescued and also why hands were removed from some of the bodies after they were found. They also want to hear from the captain of the dredger, Douglas Henderson. He was cleared of failing to keep a proper lookout after two juries failed to reach a verdict.

Following the announcement of the public inquiry, Michael Caplain, Mr Henderson's solicitor, said: "Douglas Henderson has always, at every public opportunity, expressed his profound sympathy for the relatives of those who sadly died and the survivors.

"Bearing in mind all the investigations that have taken place what will an inquiry 10 years on now acheive."

Malcolm Williams Malcolm Williams: "This will heal a lot of pain"
Shadow Transport Secretary Archie Norman welcomed the announcement of a public inquiry, saying he hoped it would be "thoroughly and expeditiously" completed.

But, Mr Norman added the disaster was "substantially investigated at the time, albeit not in a public forum" and that all the safety recommendations made by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch had been acted upon.

A 1992 Marine Accident Investigation Branch report concluded that human factors, natural conditions and design failings all contributed to the disaster.

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See also:
20 Aug 99 |  UK
Tribute to Marchioness victims
08 Nov 99 |  UK
Families press for Marchioness inquiry
19 Aug 99 |  UK
Inquiry into Marchioness sinking

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