From Dunkirk to Disaster

An inquest into the disaster returned a verdict of unlawful killing, but in July 1996 the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to justify any further criminal proceedings. Also a number of families were unsuccessful in their bid to bring a private prosecution for corporate manslaughter against the owners of the vessels. On the 7 April 1995 a Coroner’s inquest found the victims had been unlawfully killed.

In 2001 an inquiry by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency into the competence and behaviour of Captain Henderson concluded that he should be allowed to keep his master's certificate. However, they "strongly deprecated" his conduct in drinking five pints of beer in the afternoon prior to the accident - and for his own admission that he had forged some signatures on certificates and testimonials to obtain his master mariner certificate of competency in 1988. Lord Justice Clarke reached the same conclusion as the 1991 report following a public inquiry. His summing up was that fault was due to poor visibility from each ship’s wheelhouses and a lack of clear instructions to the look-out on the bow of the Bowbelle.  "He should have broadcast a May Day and he should have deployed both the life boats on the Bowbelle and her life raft" said Lord Clarke of Captain Henderson. Lord Clarke made 30 recommendations to improve river safety to include far stricter alcohol regulations on the waterways and for very significant improvement of search and rescue services on rivers.