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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
No verdict in war grave ship case
Rosemary Fogg and Valerie Ledgard
This summer the sisters visited the spot where their father died
Bereaved families who want to see the wreck of a ship torpedoed in World War II recognised as a war grave must wait for a verdict.

The SS Storaa sank 10 miles off Hastings, East Sussex, in November 1943, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) ruled it was not a war grave.

Worthing sisters Rosemary Fogg, 73, and Valerie Ledgard, 65, are fighting the ruling to protect their father's grave.

On Thursday a judge reserved his ruling with a verdict expected within a month.

The judicial review at London's High Court lasted two days and Mr Justice Newman will now consider his ruling over the coming weeks.

Wreck sold

In the UK, 16 shipwrecks and all underwater military aircraft are designated war graves, which under the Military Remains Act 1986 imposes restrictions on their exploration and salvage.

The sisters' father, James Varndell, was one of 21 men who died on the ship, which was carrying steel to a weapons factory in Cardiff.

The Varndell family
James Varndell with his daughters and wife Amy

They say the MoD's decision, that the ship was not in military service and so could not be designated a war grave, was wrong.

The campaigners argue that the ship was armed, sailing in convoy and had already beaten one German attack before it was hit.

But John Short from Hastings Sub Aqua Association, who was sold the wreck for 150 in 1985, says the MoD has no right to turn it into a war grave because he now has legal ownership.

Several merchant navy veterans were at court, supporting the sisters and saying they hoped the case would lead to a landmark ruling which would protect the graves of thousands of other sailors who died during World War II.

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