'Marchioness' inquest to reopen

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The Independent Online
THE inquest into the Marchioness disaster, which claimed 51 lives, will be reopened, a coroner ruled yesterday.

But Dr John Burton, the West London coroner, said he had 'the greatest reservations' about reopening the inquest and warned it should not be turned into a 'circus'. Relatives of the victims of the disaster said they had new evidence which discredited previous investigations.

The Marchioness, with 127 party-goers on board, sank in the Thames after a collision with the dredger Bowbelle in 1989. The 1990 inquest into the deaths was adjourned after four days following the announcement of criminal prosecutions against Douglas Henderson, the dredger's master. The prosecution later collapsed and victims' relatives began a campaign to have the inquest reopened.

The coroner at the original hearing, Dr Paul Knapman, refused to reopen the inquest because he said it was not in the public interest. But last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that he may have been biased in his decision.

Dr Burton said yesterday: 'It is put to me there is only one way in which I can assist the families (of victims) and that is by holding an inquest.

''I have the greatest reservations about it. I have the greatest misgivings.

I think I may bitterly regret what I am about to say but I can see no other way of helping these people but by saying I will hold an inquest. I want it to be a proper inquiry, I do not want it to be a circus.'

His announcement to the packed Fulham court brought cheers from victims' relatives.

Lawyers for the families claimed to have spoken to new witnesses of the tragedy and to have discovered the collision between the boats was in a different location to than previously thought.

Yesterday, Dr Burton initially ruled against reopening the hearing, only to reverse his decision after representations from families' lawyers. Counsel representing the Bowbelle's master, had argued against the reopening.

Iain Philpott, 31, whose girlfriend Tamsin Cole, then 24, was killed in the disaster, said all he was seeking was the truth. 'That's all we've ever asked. The truth about the Marchioness disaster will finally be out in the open.'