Mothers fight on for Bowbelle justice: Esther Oxford meets parents determined to get at the truth of their children's deaths

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Two mothers whose son and daughter died in the Marchioness pleasure boat tragedy on the Thames five years ago are waiting to find out whether they have succeeded in having the inquest resumed.

Eileen Dallaglio of Barnes, west London, and Margaret Lockwood-Croft, of Hampshire, say they still do not know what happened during the final moments of their children's lives.

Both know that their children were thrown clear of the boat when it sank after a collision with the Bowbelle, a dredger.

But what they do not understand is why rescue teams and Bowbelle crew failed to find Francesca Dallaglio, 19, or Shaun Lockwood-Croft, 20, in the 25 minutes following the collision. Witnesses saw them struggling in the water.

An inquest was started in 1991 but was closed because of abortive criminal proceedings against the captain of the Bowbelle .

A request to have the inquest resumed was turned down by the coroner in 1992. Now the parents are awaiting the Court of Appeal judgment. The decision will determine whether a full inquest will be held.

Francesca had been about to leave for Austria to take up modelling, dancing and teaching ballet. Shaun, an only son, was a top salesman earning pounds 120,000. Both sets of parents were stunned to hear of the deaths.

'We're not interested in scapegoats, said Mrs Lockwood-Croft. 'What we want is answers and recommenda-tions. We want to make sure that nothing like this ever happens on the Thames again.

But a full inquest has never been held. Eyewitness accounts from people on shore and on the Bowbelle 's sister ship , the Hurlingham, have not been read out in court, nor has evidence from survivors or the rescue services. Now witnesses on the Hurlingham want their evidence heard. Their version of the events leading up to the collision differs sharply from the official report released by the Department of Transport.

The two mothers want the new evidence heard. 'We want to put our minds at peace.

Mrs Dallaglio holds Westminster coroner Dr Paul Knapman responsible for the five-year wait. She complains he has refused to resume the inquest after the criminal proceedings, despite requests from relatives anxious to hear the truth.

And she says he has dealt insensitively with grieving relatives almost to the point of slander. 'He said I was unhinged, said Mrs Lockwood-Croft.

The High Court hearing is an attempt to get Dr Knapman removed on grounds of 'taint of bias. This might then improve the chances of a full inquest being granted. It will also open the floodgate to members of the public nationwide who have had problems with coroners, said Mrs Dallaglio. 'I expect there'll be a number of requests from relatives upset by biased or ignorant judgments.

If the initial proceedings fail to remove Dr Knapman, they plan to attend a divisional court hearing this month to ask for a fresh inquest to hear new

evidence from eyewitnesses.

Louise Christian, a solicitor for the Marchioness Action Group, is cautiously optimistic that the call for an inquest will be met, but is angry that proceedings have dragged on so long. 'It should never have got to this stage, she said. 'A full public inquiry should have been held in the first place.

Meanwhile Francesca and Shaun remain as alive in Mrs Dallaglio's and Mrs Lockwood-Croft's minds as they have always been. Both weep when asked to talk. Both carry photos of their child. And both are determined to go on.

'We want proper lifeboats, properly trained rescue teams and proper equipment. My child would not have died if the rescue team had been up to the job. 'I'll not give up till we get those things, Mrs Dallaglio said.

(Photographs omitted)