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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 March 2007, 17:28 GMT
Plea to Downing Street over wreck
petition handed in
The petition was handed in at 10 Downing Street
Survivors and relatives of victims of the UK's largest maritime disaster have called for the wreck of the Lancastria to be given full legal protection.

The victims' families, including many from Scotland, marched to London to make a direct plea to Tony Blair.

The Clyde-built Lancastria was carrying 9,000 troops when it was sunk in 1940 by German bombers off the French coast.

An MoD spokeswoman said the UK Government could not protect the wreck as it was in French waters.

However, she added that following representations from the UK government last year, the French extended their own legal protection to the Lancastria.

More than 4,000 people died in the wartime incident.

The Lancastria Association of Scotland organised a petition with several thousand signatures including those of MPs, MSPs, Lords and senior serving armed forces figures, which was handed over at Downing Street on Saturday.

Triumphs in war are remembered and celebrated. Disasters are not.
Fiona Symon
The Lancastria Association of Scotland

Chairwoman Fiona Symon, from Kinross, lost her father Andrew Richardson in the disaster and believes it is right to make the wreck fully covered by UK legislation, including the 1986 Protection of Military Remains Act.

The campaigners said that if the wreck was protected by UK legislation it would enable British courts to pursue divers who remove anything from the wreck, which at the moment can be difficult.

Ms Symon said: "There is a very real sense of anger amongst relatives that the lives of those who died and, indeed, the survivors who had to live with horrific memories, seem to be of less value than others who are remembered with honour.

"Those thousands of men who died, one of them my father, also gave their lives for their country.

Troop ship Lancastria
Thousands died when the Lancastria was attacked off the French coast

"Triumphs in war are remembered and celebrated. Disasters are not. Yet the sheer magnitude of the loss of life when the Lancastria was sunk on the 17th of June 1940 cries out for acknowledgement by our government. "

Lancastria survivor Reg Brown, from Bedworth near Coventry, will also be making his way to Downing Street for the handover.

Mr Brown said before handing in the petition: "I was only 20 when the ship went down all those years ago. I don't think the prime minister will be able to meet with us, but if he is I will say, 'Prime minister, we fought a terrible war for the freedom of everyone in this country and I hope we are appreciated, but are we?'

"I want him to cherish all those people who lost their lives on the Lancastria by getting the Ministry of Defence to declare the wreck an official war grave."

The only feasible and practical course of action was for the French authorities to extend their own legal protection
MoD spokeswoman

Jonathan Fenby, author of The Sinking of the Lancastria, believes the time has come for the victims and survivors to be afforded the recognition they deserve.

"The victims of June 17, 1940, deserve no less, and the survivors should be accorded honour as well, while proper attention should be paid to the event at last after all these years," he said.

The MoD spokeswoman said: "On the face of it HMT Lancastria would appear to be a good candidate for designation under the Protection of Military Remains Act (PMRA) 1986.

"However, because the wreck lies in French territorial waters this is simply not possible - the act can only be applied in the United Kingdom, United Kingdom waters or international waters.

"Given the location of the wreck, the only feasible and practical course of action was for the French authorities to extend their own legal protection to it and we very much appreciate their action in doing so."

Under the French legislation, divers are no longer allowed to come into contact with the wreck.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
A Lancastria survivor speaks at a 2006 memorial service



SEE ALSO
Campaign for 'forgotten' heroes
22 Feb 07 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
War grave campaign in legal move
20 Nov 06 |  Tayside and Central
Lancastria 'war grave' petition
21 Aug 06 |  Glasgow and West
Scots remember Lancastria tragedy
17 Jun 06 |  Scotland

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