`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.

Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
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

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum