`I lost my daughter, my friend'

Ten years after Francesca Dallaglio died in the Marchioness disaster, her mother may finally get some answers.

There is one image from 10 years of pain following the loss of her only daughter that still haunts Eileen Dallaglio. It is that of her ``beautiful flower'' of a child with her hands severed. Francesca, who was only 19 when she died, was one of 26 victims of the Marchioness river boat disaster to be mutilated for the purpose of identification.

``It was devastating,'' says Eileen. ``We found out two-and-a-half years after the disaster. Francesa was a dancer. She talked to you with her hands. It was the most horrific thing to have to come to terms with. My husband had a heart attack as a direct result of it. ''

Before boarding the cruiser for a party to celebrate the 26th birthday of Antonio de Vasconcellos, a Portuguese-born financier, Francesca and her boyfriend, John James, had been to a celebratory dinner at the family home in Barnes, south-west London, to mark her leaving ballet school.

Eileen is convinced her daughter was earmarked for a brilliant career. Francesca spent 10 years at Elmhurst Ballet School in Camberley, Surrey, and was among six pupils picked to dance for Princess Diana when she visited the school. She was about to go to Austria to work as a model, dancer and teacher of classical ballet and classical Spanish dance.

As the couple left to go to the party, Francesca flung her arms around Eileen and gave her a kiss on both cheeks. She then popped her head round the corner and chirped: "Bye you bitch!" - it was a term of endearment she used as often as "Love you, mother".

Then Eileen and her husband Vincenzo received a call at 4am from John's father. There had been an accident - John, who survived, was in St Thomas' Hospital, but Francesca could not be found.

``I was numb. From that moment onwards I was incapable of doing anything. It just threw you into terrible panic and shock.''

Life had to carry on, but it no longer semed to mean anything. Living so close to the river merely served as a daily reminder of the tragedy. ``I lived my life through Francesca," said Eileen. "Every dance lesson, every joy, every sorrow we shared together. The loss was devastating and incalculable in any terms. The shock rendered me a physical wreck. I just could not help myself. It was as if a red-hot sword had gone through my heart and I was bent over, deprived of all my confidence and could not pick myself up. One just didn't want to live. Nobody meant anything. You couldn't help your nearest and dearest because you couldn't help yourself.''

The relationship with her husband suffered immensely. After 10 years locked in grief, it is only now that the couple have started to show tentative feelings of endearment towards each other.

The sadness is hard to understand if you have not felt it. ``To lose a child is the worst possible loss. You have given birth to her, you have watched her grow - she was like a beautiful flower. She was not just my daughter, Francesca was my best friend. It very nearly killed me.''

Eileen was helped back from the brink by her other child, the former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio. He stopped playing for 18 months after the disaster, but returned to the game in 1990 to join Wasps Rugby Club, and encouraged his mother to support them.

Not only did the relatives of the victims have to fight to recover from their grief, but they also had an ongoing battle with the authorities. Two years after the disaster a Marine Accident Investigation Branch report found that the failure of look-outs on both the Marchioness and the dredger Bowbelle was the immediate cause of the fatal collision. Four years ago, an inquest found that the disaster had been caused by ``gross negligence'' but the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.

Two trial juries had earlier failed to reach a verdict on the role of Captain Douglas Henderson, skipper of the Bowbelle, who was formally acquitted of endangering life by failing to keep an adequate lookout. But on Wednesday Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott bowed to the 10-year campaign by the survivors and relatives of the victims for the right to give their evidence to a public inquiry. A judge will be appointed to investigate safety on the Thames and to advise Mr Prescott as to whether a full public inquiry should be held. The relatives will be allowed to give evidence in public to support their case.

Some of the relatives insist that some vital details of the last moments before the collision have never been disclosed.

``We were all of us plummeted into terrible psychological shock and pathological grief, and everywhere we went we came across a brick wall of silence," says Eileen Dallaglio.

``And every corner and every aisle we took, the doors were being slammed all the time. The injustice was being spelt out in huge words. And all we were looking for was the answers to the questions of how, where, why and by what means our children met their deaths.

"It wasn't [motivated by] any vindictiveness - it was sorrow."

Though absolutely delighted at the news, Eileen is still cautious. She does not just want a full public enquiry held for the sake of it, but she wants action to be taken on the lessons learned.

``The huge question has to be asked `why did it take that long?' And why were these people treated in such an appalling manner? It was as if our children had a right to die. And that's not right. ''

A memorial service for the victims of the `Marchioness' disaster takes place at 11am at Southwark Cathedral in South London today.

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star