`The French didn't give a damn'

Ten years ago, Marelle Pereira's father was killed protesting at France's nuclear tests. She's still trying to find out why. Jojo Moyes reports

Marelle Pereira's earliest memory is of boarding the Greenpeace boat Sirius, aged six, with her father. She ate green pasta - the first time she had ever even seen it. Afterwards, she and her brother painted the ship's funnel. "We did a rainbow," she said, smiling as she acknowledges the irony. "It was really good. Really professional."

The next memory she reveals comes from two years later. She was in the school playground, when a teacher took her to one side and told her her mother was there to see her.

"I started to cry because I knew something was wrong," she says. "I said `Something has happened to my father, hasn't it?' and she said, `Yes, he's missing, we don't know where he is.' I said, `How come?' She said, `He was on the boat and there was a bomb and he's missing. They can't find him'."

Ten years ago, on 10 July 1985, the French secret service bombed the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland Harbour. Photographer Fernando Pereira, who had been helping the protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, was killed in the attack.

Two French secret agents, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were subsequently captured by the New Zealand authorities and jailed for a month, before being transferred by special agreement between New Zealand and France to "exile" on a Pacific atoll.

Less than three years later they were "rescued" by the French military and returned to France. Mafart was subsequently promoted.

Ten years on, the circumstances surrounding Fernando Pereira's death are still murky. Questions remain as to who ordered the bombing of the ship and whether Mr Pereira's death was intended. The answer to that question is something Marelle Pareira, now 18, has spent 10 years trying to block out.

"I was very depressed. I had a lot of problems and it was hard for me to deal with," she says. "Then I realised it was the grief that I had had earlier. I knew he wasn't coming back but I couldn't understand it."

With her long curly hair and her carefully made-up face, on which the faintest traces of puppy fat remain, Marelle looks like any other 18-year- old girl teetering on the edge of adulthood. But for her the transition, recorded by Channel 4's Witness series, was to be both swifter and harder.

She embarked on a quest to find out more about her father and the cause that he died for. It took her first to the islands of French Polynesia, home of the French nuclear-testing programme.

From those who worked with Fernando Pereira on the Rainbow Warrior, she began to build up a picture of the father she scarcely knew. She learnt that the ship's last mission had been a protest against the nuclear tests and to evacuate victims of previous testing from a dying island. "In Tahiti, they treated my father like a hero," she says. "They were pleased to meet me because I'm the daughter of a person they really loved."

Marelle's sense of pride vanished and her pain and incomprehension surfaced when she heard how the two agents had been greeted as heroes on their return to France.

"I got very angry about their promotion," she says. "It was incredible. If you rescue someone you get a medal, but not if you kill somebody."

The teenager's sense of injustice grew when she and her mother finally travelled to France to find out why the mission was considered so important, and to confront those responsible. In New Zealand, she had achieved unprecedented access to those involved. But while Marelle was finally ready to see France, France was not so keen on meeting her. When she identified herself to those involved in the bombing, she met a wall of silence.

"We called them, we wrote to them, we sent faxes ... We tried to call five, six, seven times and every time we got an answer saying he has gone to America or he's on vacation or he's not in the country right now, and they put the telephone down."

Increasingly frustrated, she wrote an open letter to Chirac in the newspaper Liberation, appealing for information about her father's death. The only person who would speak to her was Jean Guisnel, a French journalist, who has written about the bombing.

He told her that Charles Hernu, the then minister of defence who had been one of those responsible for ordering the bombing, had been in the throes of a passionate love affair. That is said to have badly affected his judgement (although this theory has also been dismissed as an attempt to shift the blame from the secret service).

Marelle asked what the French thought about the attack on the Rainbow Warrior. They did not care, came the blunt reply. After his retirement, Mr Hernu was a popular man.

It is one kind of pain to witness people's grief over your father's death. It is another to witness indifference or, worse, approval. "Guisnel said the French didn't give a damn," she says, unhappily. "They thought they got what they deserved. They don't care even now. It was very hurtful."

The answers she got, she says, have not made it any easier to come to terms with her father's death. It is still unclear why the bombs were detonated, or on exactly whose orders. Francois Mitterrand is among those who knows the details, but he remains silent.

"I only have one question left, but that was the main question - `Why?' - and I don't think I'll ever get the answer now. I'm very sad about that," she says. "Are they afraid of an 18-year-old girl? I think sometimes that they must be ashamed, or they would have come forward by now."

Marelle says she is now ready to move on. When she has finished college, she aims to continue the fight against nuclear testing. She speaks with a teenager's straightforward anger about Chirac's decision, announced last month, to resume nuclear testing after a three-year break.

However, while the search helped her "recover", as she describes it, from her father's death, anger has supplanted any sense of forgiveness that may have been possible.

"No, I don't forgive any of them," she repeats. "Not Mitterrand, not Hernu. Maybe I would have forgiven them if they had apologised right away, but it's 10 years later." she pauses. "And they still haven't written us a letter with the word `sorry'."

`Witness: Beyond the Rainbow' is broadcast tonight on Channel 4 at 9pm.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
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?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform