Comment: Obstacles to justice compounded grief

For six years the families and friends of those who died on the Marchioness were denied an opportunity to discover exactly what went wrong on the night of 20 August 1989. Yesterday's verdict of unlawful killing vindicates their persistence. The way is now open for them to claim civil damages against the owners of the Bowbelle and perhaps, once again, to begin criminal proceedings.

But the verdict also highlights the disgraceful way in which they have been treated. The bereaved were entitled to a speedy and full inquiry into how 51 people died in a matter of minutes while enjoying a pleasure cruise.

Yet, instead of setting up a proper investigation, the authorities put obstacle after obstacle in the way of those seeking the truth. The Government refused to hold a public inquiry into the disaster. Then the coroner would not reopen the inquest, even after criminal proceedings had been completed. Given that a jury was convinced yesterday that unlawful killing had taken place, why could the Government not have recognised the need for some form of public inquiry? It should not have been necessary for the bereaved to pursue the case right up to the Court of Appeal until they got what they wanted.

It seems to be a lottery whether the causes of major accidents are fully aired in public. The King's Cross fire and the Zeebrugge disaster both prompted public inquiries in which blame was apportioned and relatives felt that some sort of justice was done. Yet the families of the Lockerbie victims have been waiting longer even than the Marchioness families for a comprehensive answer as to why Pan Am flight 103 blew up.

The next disaster is never far away. Before it happens, let's establish a system of public inquiry to ensure that grief is not again compounded by the type of frustration endured for so long by those who lost their loved ones on the Marchioness.