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John Prescott
"There must never be a repeat of those events"
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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 11:34 GMT
Marchioness report 'completed by Christmas'

Fifty-one people died in the 1989 tragedy
A report into the causes of the 1989 Marchioness river boat tragedy should be completed by Christmas, survivors and the families of those who lost their lives in the tragedy have been told.

The timing was given by Lord Justice Clarke, who is chairing the public inquiry, as he opened the investigation's first stage in London.

A memorial service was held last year to mark the disaster's 10th anniversary
A total of 51 people died and 80 were rescued when the Marchioness sank in the River Thames in central London after being involved in a collision with the dredger Bowbelle on the night of 20 August, 1989.

The party on the Marchioness was celebrating the birthday of London financier Antonio de Vasconcellos. Survivors and the families of those who died have campaigned long and hard for a public inquiry.

Their efforts paid off last month when Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced that he had ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disaster.

Lord Justice Clarke said that he hoped to start the formal investigation on 2 October.

"I intend that it should be thorough but that it should be carried out with reasonable despatch. It will be public and it will, I hope, be fair to everyone," he said.

Legal funding

Lord Justice Clarke, who conducted the Thames Safety Inquiry last autumn, said he expected the formal investigation to last for about six weeks.

It would cover issues surrounding the collision such as the system of look-outs on the two boats, the causes, the search and rescue operation, and ways of avoiding similar loss of life in the future.

That would be followed in November by a shorter non-statutory inquiry which would examine the issues surrounding the identification of victims who died in the disaster.

It will be public and it will, I hope, be fair to everyone

Lord Justice Clarke
Lord Justice Clarke said: "I hope that the oral evidence can be given in a few days and much of the evidence will be in documentary form."

The Marchioness Action Group and the Marchioness Contact Group, which represent survivors and families of the victims, both played a significant part in the Thames Safety Inquiry, and he would authorise public funding for the legal teams representing both groups, he said.

"The Deputy Prime Minister has indicated that the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions is willing to provide funds subject to what seem to me to be sensible conditions," Lord Justice Clarke said.

He was keen to ensure that the investigation would be transparent and recognised that some of the evidence would be potentially distressing.

He added: "I hope it will be possible to reduce issues between the parties as much as possible so the inquiry will only hear evidence of real significance."

Lord Justice Clarke said he hoped both reports would be completed before Christmas.

'Long haul'

Barbara Davies, from the Marchioness Contact Group, whose son Jonathan survived the disaster, said: "It's been a very a long haul, we have been very patient and I think that has been rewarded now.

"We want to have all the evidence heard under one roof for the first time.

"We are looking for the outcome to improve safety on the river and for legislation to restrict the use of alcohol on the river."

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