Closure at last in Cold War mystery? Russian experts test human remains after 39-year hunt for Hull trawlermen

Reason for FV Gaul's demise remains subject of speculation although official 2004 inquiry ruled out conspiracy theories

British police are to work with Russian experts in an attempt finally to bring peace to grieving families of the victims of one of Britain's worst-ever tragedies at sea.

The entire crew of the supertrawler FV Gaul was lost when the Hull-based fishing vessel sank without trace off the Norwegian coast during the height of the Cold War.

No distress call was made when the 1,100 tonne ship went down during a fierce storm in the Barents Sea in February 1974 - in a decade when British trawlers were routinely used by the Navy to spy on Soviet naval movements.

The mystery of what happened to the Gaul has endured ever since, amid rumours it was spotted spying on a military complex at Murmansk and sunk by a Russian submarine.

It took more than 20 years before the wreck was finally found in 1997, after a private expedition by a TV crew.

Subsequent searches of the vessel, 70 miles off the north Norwegian coast, found the remains of just three of the 36 crew - Stan Collier, 40;  James Wales, 29; and Maurice Spurgeon, 38.

But now other grieving families could finally get confirmation of what happened to their loved ones.

For the human remains of up to ten people have been found on the Rybachy peninsula, Murmansk.

A team of Russian and British experts is working together to try and match the remains to missing crew members, with DNA samples being taken from British families in a bid to help identify the remains.

In a statement, a Foreign Office spokesperson told The Independent: "The Russian authorities have been in touch formally with the FCO suggesting possible direct cooperation between the Russian authorities and Humberside Police in the new year with the aim of conducting relevant tests to identify the remains found in Murmansk."

Tonight a spokesman for the Russian Embassy, London, said: "Currently Russian forensic experts in Murmansk are running tests to determine DNA samples, those should be finished in December." They added: "We are also working on provision of remains samples to the British experts for tests in the UK."

According to the spokesman, the remains were discovered by a Russian World War Two veteran from Murmansk who was involved in previous searches many years ago and who continued to search "on his own initiative until he found those remains last year."

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Leaver from Humberside Police confirmed: "We have met all the families of the crew members lost on the Gaul and will continue to provide them with information as it becomes available."

Humberside Police "will look to work closely with the Russian authorities," who Mr Leaver praised for being "very supportive and helpful."

Experts in Russia are conducting forensic and genetic testing on the remains, and he added: "The force plan to discuss these matters in the New Year - probably towards the end of January - with the Russian authorities."

But Beryl Betts, whose 26-year-old brother Billy Jones was one of those aboard the trawler, has "mixed feelings" about the news.

"My personal opinion is that they should have told us when they were 100 per cent sure. This has spoilt Christmas," said the 74-year-old from Hull.

Other relatives are also "in a state of shock" according to Mrs Betts, who is giving a DNA sample to help in the identification process.

Freezing conditions in the region they were found mean the bodies were never buried, simply covered with rocks.

It remains unclear why it has taken almost 40 years for the remains to be found.

The location where they were discovered is consistent with the area where the crew could have washed ashore, according to Humberside Police.

Responding to the news on Wednesday Lord Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister and Hull East MP, said the fate of the crew has been "a continuing mystery" and added: "People want an ending to this terrible tragedy."

Theories that the Russians sank the ship have been discounted by previous official investigations, and a public inquiry in 2004 into the disaster concluded the Gaul went down in heavy storms and was not deliberately sunk or pulled down by a submarine.

Lord Prescott commented: "Our trawlers were used in the Cold War. That was a practice that was unacceptable and dangerous." In the case of the Gaul: "I don't think for a second that it was sunk by the Russians but some people believe that."

Hull MPs were briefed by officials on Tuesday and Alan Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, said: "They didn't want to just go to the families and get their hopes up before they'd gone through a bit of a process of elimination, dating the remains, making sure they weren't Russian sailors...they are from the right time frame and it is becoming a reasonable possibility that these could be crew members from the Gaul."

But he admitted not all relatives have welcomed the news. "The first family member I rang yesterday said 'I wish this hadn't happened' because she had the slight feeling that her brother might still be alive. For the family members while there was no news there was hope."

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style