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Monday, 2 October, 2000, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Marchioness collision risk 'was known'
Marchioness passenger boat
51 people lost their lives in the Marchioness disaster
Police and government officials had warned of the possibility of a serious accident on the river Thames years before the Marchioness disaster, an inquiry has been told.

Fifty-one people died when the pleasure boat collided with a dredger, the Bowbelle, in the early hours of 20 August 1989.

Eileen Dallaglio holding a photo of her daughter Francesca
Eileen Dallaglio's daughter Francesca was 19 when she died
"How is it that if so many people had known for so long of the risk of a serious collision on the Thames, such a thing could still happen?" asked Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn as he opened the public inquiry on Monday.

During his provisional opening statement he said Marchioness skipper Stephen Faldo, who died in the accident, "should have been all the more careful" given the circumstances at the time.

Some of the 80 survivors will be giving evidence at the hearing in Central Hall, Westminster.

Lord Williams said a Metropolitan Police chief inspector had written to the Department of Transport in 1973 about the safety of passenger launches on the Thames.

Earlier Bowbelle collision

A decade later the Bowbelle was involved in a minor collision with another boat which a DoT surveyor blamed on "grossly inadequate visibility" from both vessels.

In the same year another DoT official said "as things stood it was not a case of if a serious accident occurred, but when," Lord Williams told the inquiry.

Turning to the night of the disaster, Lord Williams said passengers on the pleasure boat reported "how they only saw the dark hull of Bowbelle looming over Marchioness and did not see any lights".

Mr Faldo, the attorney general went on, should have been more careful because he was navigating the Marchioness along the middle of the river at night.

After more than 11 years, I want some answers

Eileen Dallaglio
He ought to have kept to the starboard side of the Thames while the Bowbelle, had she observed the Marchioness, ought to have slowed down and used sound alerts.

"It is difficult to imagine that the collision would have occurred had both vessels kept a good lookout," Lord Williams added.

He said there was evidence suggesting the Bowbelle's owners did not did not have a proper system for monitoring shipboard practices.

There was no evidence the Marchioness' owners had complied with a DoT requirement to post a lookout other than the man at the helm.

Inquest verdict

Lord Williams also referred to question marks over both the Marchioness' emergency equipment and the responses of the Metropolitan Police and Port of London Authority.

The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau's inquiry into the sinking of the pleasure boat found the immediate cause was the failure of the lookouts on both vessels.

An inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killings on the deaths of the 51 party-goers on board the boat.

But the families of the victims, most of whom were young, believe important facts on the causes of the disaster have been overlooked.

The public inquiry is the result of their 11-year campaign to find out exactly what happened.

Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson
Bowbelle captain Douglas Henderson, already acquitted of failing to keep a proper watch
One of the relatives is Eileen Dallaglio, the mother of England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio. Her daughter Francesca, 19, drowned in the tragedy.

Arriving for the start of the six week inquiry, ordered by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, she said: "After more than 11 years, I want some answers."

"I want justice to be done. I want to know how 51 of our children were unlawfully killed.

"We now have a chance to cross-examine the entire crew of the Bowbelle and to finally get at the truth of what happened."

The inquiry will hear from the crew of both vessels and the captain of the Bowbelle, Douglas Henderson, who has been acquitted of failing to keep a proper watch.

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