'Marchioness' report ready by Christmas

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Ten years after they began campaigning, survivors and families of those drowned in the Marchioness disaster saw the public inquiry open yesterday. Lord Justice Clarke, chairing it, said he hoped to start the formal investigation on 2 October; the report should be ready by Christmas.

Fifty-one party-goers died in August 1989 when the Marchioness collided with the Bowbelle dredger on the Thames near Southwark Bridge in London. There were 80 survivors.

Last month, John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Transport, ordered the inquiry and a second one, to run concurrently, into why the hands of 27 victims were cut off at the mortuary - a move that was said to have been to aid identification but it angered relatives.

The master of the Bowbelle, Douglas Henderson, was tried in 1991 and acquitted of failing to keep a proper look-out after two juries failed to reach a verdict. A Marine Accident Investigation Branch report said failure of look-outs on both vessels was the immediate cause of the tragedy. An inquest was held in spring 1995. The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing but the Crown Prosecution Service decided against criminal proceedings.

Yesterday, Lord Justice Clarke, who conducted the Thames Safety Inquiry in the autumn, said the formal investigation would cover such issues as the system of look-outs on the boats, causes of the tragedy, the search and rescue operation and ways of averting similar loss of life in future.