Marchioness families furious over Prescott's `broken promise'

SURVIVORS AND families of victims of the Marchioness disaster yesterday renewed their 10-year fight for a public inquiry, saying they had been misled by the Government.

"I am furious," said Iain Philpott, 39, a survivor of the tragedy in which his girlfriend, Tamsin Cole, died. "John Prescott promised us we would get our inquiry yet here we are still fighting for it. I feel we have been misled."

Last August Mr Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced a public inquiry covering the Marchioness tragedy in which 51 people died. In September Mr Prescott appointed the Appeal Court Judge, Lord Justice Sir Anthony Clarke to head the inquiry.

Sir Anthony's brief is to look at safety on the Thames ahead of the millennium celebrations, and to investigate if there should be a full public inquiry into the Marchioness disaster.

The pleasure boat Marchioness sank after a collision with the dredger Bowbelle on20 August, 1989. Representatives of the families called for a full inquiry at a public meeting in London yesterday organised by Sir Anthony.

"We have two primary concerns. First, that such an event should never occur again," said Michael Mansfield QC, representing 72 people. Second, he said, was the question of accountability. "It is surely what the public expect, an investigation to reveal the truth of what happened."

Chair of the Marchioness Action Group, Margaret Lockwood Smith, whose 26-year-old son Sean was killed, said: "Many organisations agree there should be one body in charge of Thames safety both on the river and along its banks." Both groups told Sir Anthony that their interest was for the future, not for retribution. They would not be looking for new prosecutions.

An inquest into the deaths returned a verdict in April 1995 of "unlawful killing". The Bowbelle captain, Douglas Henderson, was tried for failing to keep a proper look-out, he was formally acquitted after two juries failed to reach a verdict.