Marchioness survivors and victims' families recall Thames disaster

Marchioness More than 130 partygoers were on board the Marchioness pleasure boat on the evening of 20 August, 1989

Related Stories

On a hot, late-summer evening in 1989, the Marchioness pleasure boat, packed with more than 130 partygoers, collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank in the River Thames, killing 51 people. Twenty-five years on, survivors and victims' families recall what happened and the legacy that remains.

"People were just starting to dance," said Iain Philpott, who was a 26-year-old fashion photographer, from Highbury, north London. "We'd been on board for less than 40 minutes."

He and his girlfriend were among the many twenty-somethings who had been invited to the party organised for banker Antonio de Vasconcellos' 26th birthday.

"We were in the lower dining saloon when the dredger struck," he recalls. "Through the window, we could see the water building up as the stern was being pushed.

Simon Senior Twenty-year-old model Simon Senior was among those who died in the disaster

Start Quote

Losing him tore out my heart. My world fell apart. I felt helpless, went into shock and couldn't move”

End Quote Judy Wellington Simon Senior's mother

"The lights went out and we knew water had got into the hull," he says. "There were lots of screams and next thing, we were all in the water."

Model Simon Senior, who was 20 years old, was also on board.

Mr Senior modelled for ID magazine, lived with his girlfriend on west London's trendy King's Road and played bass guitar in a band.

"He was creative, artistic and had an amazing sense of humour," says his mother Judy Wellington. "He just cut to the chase and made you laugh in seconds.

"He had this need to be successful. There weren't many black models and he just wanted to be the best."

On board the Marchioness, Mr Senior was with a woman on the dance floor but when the craft crashed they were thrown apart.

He escaped into the river water outside the vessel and started trying to swim to shore but the current was against him.

"Fate was also against them that night," his mother recalls.

Mr Philpott also managed to escape from the vessel into the river.

"I saw an empty barrel of beer coming towards me and grabbed hold of it, then got a few other people to hold on," he said.

The group struggled over to another party boat, were pulled onboard and transferred to Westminster Pier before being taken to hospital.

But Mr Philpott's friends and girlfriend did not survive. "I probably spent a month going to friends' funerals," he said.

Ms Wellington said she found it hard initially to accept her son was dead.

line
Disaster and aftermath

Archive report: Marchioness river crash kills 51

• On 20 August 1989, 131 people were on board the Marchioness when it was hit by the dredger Bowbelle

• 51 people died

• Coroner Dr Paul Knapman decided to cut the hands off more than 20 victims for identification purposes

• A public inquiry in 2000 said poor lookouts on both vessels were responsible for the collision

• The captain of the Bowbelle, Douglas Henderson, had drunk six pints of lager on afternoon of the accident

• The Metropolitan Police were "ill-prepared" and had no contingency plan for such an event, the inquiry found

• January 2002, Royal National Lifeboat Institution introduces four lifeboat stations on the River Thames

line

"All I kept thinking was my child is somewhere but I couldn't reach him," she said. "I couldn't eat or sleep and when I did sleep, I'd wake up and that feeling of pain would come back inside of me.

"Then I started to realise he was not coming back."

A few days later, a body matching Mr Senior's description was found in the river near HMS Belfast.

"Losing him tore out my heart," she said. "My world fell apart. I felt helpless, went into shock and couldn't move."

As if the pain of mourning friends was not bad enough, the months and years that followed the tragedy were to test the survivors and victims' families even more.

Marchioness The Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank in the River Thames in central London
Marchioness A total of 51 people were killed in the tragedy

Some of the families had to come to terms with the controversial decision by Westminster Coroner Dr Paul Knapman to cut off the hands of more than 20 of the victims for identification purposes - an action criticised by Lord Justice Clarke in his subsequent 2001 report into the circumstances surrounding the collision.

Ms Wellington said of her son: "He was a brilliant musician. It's unbearable to think they cut his hand off, but nothing was said about it."

Many families threw their efforts into improving safety on the river, frustrated at what they regarded as a lack of government commitment to tackling the issue.

Margaret Lockwood-Croft, whose son Shaun, 26, died in the disaster, was one of the the Marchioness Action Group's founding members.

She proudly lists just some of the achievements of the group's campaigning: the introduction of lifeboats on the River Thames in 2001, new laws on being in charge of vessels under the influence of alcohol, and training for police family liaison officers.

Marchioness After the Marchioness collided with the 880-tonne dredger, it sank within minutes

"A lot of legacies have come out of the Marchioness disaster so those 51 people, I'm sure in their place of comfort, they are proud something has come out of their deaths," she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Wellington said her son's death had also left a positive legacy.

"Over the years I have decided everything I do has to be in Simon's memory," she said. "In his 20 small years, he had so much desire to do something to change."

After he died, she went to college, gained a degree, then did teacher training and set up a language school.

She now runs the school and works with young people in community development.

"I changed my life so I could take him with me," she said. "I feel his legacy has lived on."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC London

Weather

London

24 °C 14 °C

BBC Local Live

  1.  
    Gas leak evacuation 13:11:

    About 200 people have been evacuated from their homes in Romford following a leaking gas main.

    London Fire Brigade said it was called to Victoria Road at about 10:30 and as a precaution closed the road as well as nearby South Street.

     
  2.  
    News on the hour 13:00:

    The lead headline at 13:00: About 200 people have been evacuated from their homes in Romford following a leaking gas main.

     
  3.  
    Have your say 12:45:

    We've introduced BBC Local Live to bring you the latest news, sport, travel and weather all in one place. Tell us what you think.

     
  4.  
    Fire responsibility ruling needed 12:31:

    A man whose daughter died in an apartment block blaze in Canary Wharf wants clearer rules on fire safety responsibility.

    Sophie Rosser

    Sophie Rosser died in August 2012 after seeing her apartment block on fire and rushing inside to warn her fiancee.

    A coroner said the 23-year-old's death was accidental, but Ms Rosser's father Julian said: "Nobody was blamed because the coroner wasn't sure who the responsible person was."

     
  5.  
    EastEnders star settlement 12:20:

    EastEnders actor Steve McFadden has settled a damages claim against News Group Newspapers and the Metropolitan Police, issued following the phone hacking revelations.

    Steve McFadden

    Tamsin Allen, representing Mr McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell in the soap, told a High Court judge that a police officer had sold private information about the actor to a News of the World journalist in 2010.

     
  6.  
    Pensions and music 12:09: BBC London 94.9 Radio

    On the Robert Elms show: Mike Pentelow and Peter Arkell, the authors of Freedom Pass London - Make the Most of Your Travel Pass, talk about their guide to free travel for pensioners in London and singer Chastity Brown plays live.

    You can listen live on BBC London 94.9 and contact the team on 020 7224 2000.

     
  7.  
    News on the hour 12:00:

    The top headline at noon: The detective leading the search for the missing west London teenager Alice Gross will appear on Crimewatch tonight to appeal for information and show CCTV footage of her last known movements.

     
  8.  
    Male rape CCTV image released 11:49:

    A CCTV image of a man police want to speak to in connection with the rape of a 19-year-old man in a Kingston-upon-Thames nightclub has been released.

    CCTV image

    The incident occurred in the early hours of Thursday, 3 April, in the male toilets of the Pryzm nightclub in Clarence Street, Kingston. The suspect is believed to be in his mid 20s and is described as being of Mediterranean appearance.

     
  9.  
    Airport fog disruption 11:37:

    London City Airport tweets: Visibility has now improved, but flights may be delayed by the earlier disruption.

     
  10.  
    Top university city 11:28:

    London is the only city to have five of the world's top 100 universities, according to the QS World University Rankings.

    Imperial College

    Imperial College London was named the second best university in the world, alongside Cambridge University, but The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came out top for the third time.

     
  11.  
    Contactless payment 11:18:

    BBC London 94.9's Jason Rosam tweets: Wow! This man just used contactless on his mobile phone to enter the Tube gates! @TfLOfficial@BBCLondon949

    Contactless payments
     
  12.  
    Girls arrested over stabbing 11:07:

    Two teenage girls have been arrested after a 38-year-old man was stabbed and bitten on football fields on Wanstead Flats.

    The 13 and 16-year-olds were arrested at the scene yesterday afternoon on suspicion of causing GBH, Scotland Yard said.

     
  13.  
    News on the hour 11:00:

    The top story at 11:00: Detectives investigating the disappearance of west London teenager Alice Gross say they've had a "great response" from the public, but still no confirmed sightings after she was last seen on CCTV.

     
  14.  
    Coca-Cola takes on London Eye 10:54:

    It has been revealed that Coca-Cola is to become the new sponsor of the London Eye from January.

    London Eye
     
  15.  
    Injury doubts for Arsenal 10:46:

    Arsenal have injury problems in defence as they begin their Champions League campaign away to Borussia Dortmund tonight.

    Arsene Wenger

    Right-back Mathieu Debuchy and left-back Nacho Monreal are out, while new signing Calum Chambers is a doubt.

     
  16.  
    Car collides with train 10:36:

    A woman has been arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving after her car went through a level crossing barrier at Datchet, Berkshire, at 06:05 and collided with a train.

    Datchet level crossing

    British Transport Police said the 67 year old's Volkswagen Golf collided with a train travelling from Clapham to Windsor and Eton Riverside Station.

    She escaped injury.

    The crash has caused travel disruption to services.

     
  17.  
    Alice Gross rucksack 'seen' 10:26:

    Police investigating the disappearance of Alice Gross say a couple have come forward with a new sighting of Alice's rucksack.

    Image of Alice's bag

    A Crimewatch appeal for more information about the 14 year old girl, from Hanwell, will be made tonight.

    Alice was last seen on 28 August.

     
  18.  
    Death row meals 10:21:

    A pop-up restaurant inspired by the last meal requests of people on death row is coming to Hackney, Dalstonist reports.

    The restaurant, which will be open for a month until the end of November, will be located on Hoxton Square.

     
  19.  
    Greenwich regeneration 10:11:

    Plans to build 10,000 new homes on the Greenwich Peninsula will go on display this week.

    O2 development

    The scheme, which would be the UK's largest new development, involves 160 acres of land near the O2 and would take up to 25 years to complete.

     
  20.  
    News on the hour 10:00:

    The lead headline at 10:00: A woman is in a critical condition in hospital after a suspected hit and run involving a stolen car that was being chased by police in Highgate.

     
  21.  
    Rail disruption 09:46: Louise Pepper Journalist, BBC London

    Buses are replacing trains on South West services between Windsor & Eton Riverside and Staines-upon-Thames because of a level crossing incident.

    For travel updates on twitter, follow @BBCTravelAlert

     
  22.  
    Shooting arrest 09:36:

    Detectives investigating the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old man in Battersea have arrested a second man on suspicion of murder.

    Sebastian Jamal Hyman-Knight

    Sebastian Hyman-Knight was shot in the head in Tennyson Street on Thursday night. Police say they are keeping an open mind about the motive.

     
  23.  
    W1A returns 09:27: Beth Rose BBC News Online

    I may have ended up on the extras cutting room floor in the first series, but Hugh Bonneville is to reprise his role as Ian Fletcher in BBC mockumentary W1A for a second series next year.

    W1A

    Based on the real workings of the newsroom, hundreds of BBC journalists offered to be extras and pretend to work away at their computers. If you were lucky enough to be "given direction" as I was, you could reach the heady heights of having to walk between two desks.

    In the new show, Fletcher will have the additional challenge of having to deal with the issue of the BBC's charter renewal, which is due in 2016.

     
  24.  
    Changing visibility 09:16:

    The RNLI's Matt Leat tweets: Since starting work today the visibility has reduced just a bit #fog #thamesbarrier

    Thames barrier
     
  25.  
    Suspected hit and run 09:10:

    A woman is in a critical condition in hospital after a suspected hit and run involving a stolen car that was being chased by police in Highgate.

     
  26.  
    On air 09:03: BBC London 94.9 Radio

    London's mental health services are struggling to cope with the demand for psychological therapies, according to new research by the We Need to Talk coalition.

    It found that nearly a quarter of Londoners needing therapy have been waiting for more than six months.

    What is your experience? You can listen live to BBC London 94.9 and contact the team on 020 7224 2000.

     
  27.  
    Top headlines
     
  28.  
    Airport disruption 08:52:

    Heavy fog has caused dozens of flights to be delayed or cancelled at London City Airport.

    Eurocontrol, which co-ordinates air traffic control across Europe, said there could be delays of up to 160 minutes.

     
  29.  
    Contactless payments on Tube 08:42:

    Contactless bank cards are being introduced across London's Tube, DLR and Overground train networks.

    contactless card

    From this morning, people can use their bank cards instead of having to top up Oyster Cards, although these will still be accepted.

     
  30.  
    UCH to get Sutton money 08:32:

    University College Hospital is set to benefit from a share of the almost £5m raised by cancer sufferer Stephen Sutton in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

    Stephen Sutton

    The trust said the hospital's 18-bed unit was in "desperate need" of refurbishment and a £168,000 donation would be added to £192,000 already raised by other supporters to enable improvements to be made.

     
  31.  
    No Woolwich ferry 08:23:

    TfL River tweets: No service on the Woolwich Ferry due to adverse weather conditions.

     
  32.  
    Hull 2 - 2 West Ham 08:15:

    West Ham produced a spirited fightback to twice come from behind and deny Hull City victory at the KC Stadium.

    Hull v West Ham

    Abel Hernandez, a club record £10m buy, gave Hull the lead before Enner Valencia equalised with a spectacular 25-yard strike.

    Mo Diame restored Hull's lead against his old club, only for Curtis Davies to divert Diafra Sakho's shot into his own net.

     
  33.  
    Fog flights disruption 08:06: Louise Pepper Journalist, BBC London

    There is disruption to flights to and from City Airport because of the fog.

    For more travel updates, visit BBC London's travel website.

     
  34.  
    08:01: Beth Rose BBC News Online

    Good morning. I'll be bringing you all the latest news, sport, travel and weather from London today for BBC Local Live.

    You can send your news, pictures and comments to london.locallive@bbc.co.uk.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.