Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2007
Q180 Chairman: Mr Williams, would
you like to begin?
Mr Williams: I talk really as
a member of the public and a survivor of the Marchioness.
However, that was 18 years ago now and in the intervening years
I have attended many investigations and inquiries to give information
or to help the process and they have not been easy because every
time I get drawn back into discussions my day-to-day dreams and
lifestyle is interrupted by memories and images, which is very
unpleasant, but I manage that. In 1989 I remember walking onto
the deck of the Marchioness feeling that I was going to
have a good time and I was in safe hands. I anticipated that people
would be knowledgeable, experienced and in a fit state to ensure
my safety, but in the event all those factors did not seem to
play, and I found myself struggling for my life in the river in
the middle of the night. After 12 years of waiting, the public
inquiry was held and Lord Justice Clarke made recommendations
which seemed to me to have a major effect on the way in which
the safety of the river was considered. Major changes were made
and issues around training for watermen and boatmen were impressive
to me as a laymen and it made me feel that maybe my friendsand
the majority of my friends I had made in London died that nighthad
not died totally in vain and there may be something happening
to honour them in some way of achievement. The knowledge I am
picking up now is that all this is being changed and that sense
of something happening seems to have changed and the rigorous
and stringent measures seem to me, from what I have been hearing
and reading, to be being seriously relaxed, so my concerns have
been raised. My concerns were further raisedand I can only
really relate to what I see in publicby an article in the
Evening Standard recently where there seemed to be great
differences of opinion and a polarisation of views between Dr
Ladyman and his experts and the people who actually run the river,
the watermen and the boatmen, which also gave me great concern.
It seemed to me at the time that the newspaper article showed
the boatmen in a bad light in this sense. I felt that was unfair
at the time but I realised from that article that they seem to
be being accused of running a closed shop and having to work to
onerous rules which might prevent the development of a more diverse
workforce. In the same article what concerned me more was a suggestion
that Dr Ladyman had got it wrong. He commented: "What a horrid
thought that changes I made might cause someone to lose their
life . . . " but he went on to say: "I am absolutely
confident that if anything I have erred on the side of caution."
My sincere hope, Chairman, is that the arguments over whether
the boatmen maintain a closed shop or not and how to encourage
a more diverse workforce do not in any way deflect attention from
the important things they have to say about their work and how
to maintain their high standards of training. I had thought that
the higher standards of training and the so-called "onerous
rules" had in fact been instigated by Lord Justice Clarke
Q181 Chairman: Mr Williams, we want
to ask you a number of questions that will touch on these things.
Mr Williams: So can I come quickly
to my last point?
Q182 Chairman: If you would.
Mr Williams: My feeling is that
I am very grievously anxious that if the phrase "absolute
confidence" does not turn out later to be true then many
people are not going to be impressed, particularly those parents
and families and friends who lost people in that incident.
Q183 Chairman: Thank very much, that
is very helpful. Mrs Lockwood Croft?
Ms Lockwood Croft: Firstly, Chairman,
thank you for inviting the Marchioness Action Group here
today. In 1991, we started campaigning for there to be national
licences covering the different avenues of watercanals,
lakes, rivers, tidal waters and offshore watersso we do
welcome that. We feel sad that they did not take up our recommendation
then which was to have an independent research team looking at
what was out there in training, whether there were incidents in
any parts of Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland that
were recorded, and to assimilate all that information before making
licences. We took the opinion from the start that you could not
have one size fits all. You would have to research first to see
what type of comprehensive training is appropriate to those particular
waters. We consider it is necessary for all personnel, managers
and owners to have training because we view this as a corporate
responsibility. We feel if that had occurred our country would
be the lead to Europe and we could have presented to them rather
than the EU Directive being presented to us, so I consider time
and resource has been wasted. If that had occurred we would not
be here today. It concerns me now that we have a licence that
does not cover the different perspectives across our country,
I think that is important, because we do not have the true facts
and figures. I want to remind the Committeeand I am not
wanting to be derogative because any remark I make I want positivity
to be taken out of itof what caused the incident in 1989
and that departments can and have made errors, and I feel that
at this juncture another error has been made and I hope it will
be rectified. The Port of London Authority withdrew pilots on
the part of the River Thames where the incident occurred. The
Ministry of Transport of the day, as it still does, issues licences
and they issued licences for craft like the Marchioness
and its sister ship the Hurlingham to have decks added
to them causing lack of stability and for them to be unbalanced.
They were not weighted the right way so if you all rushed to one
side, the ship went to one side and it took on water. It concerns
us that there are still craft like that were built for upper reaches
and non-tidal waters plying their trade on tidal waters. I can
back that up with physical evidence and send it to the Committee
because we were given the original architects' drawings of the
Marchioness that were presented to Lord Justice Clarke.
A reminder too that there were two combined departments, which
to us facilitated that disaster occurring. That is why we had
recommended after the death of our loved ones that there should
be independent research handed back to the government; as I said
time and effort wasted. It concerns me now with this new licenceand
this can be validated by the professionals themselves, the watermen
and lightermen, particularly Captain Scott Newton and Alex Hickman
and others, that with this new licence they could go on to the
Q184 Chairman: I am going to stop
you there, I am sorry Mrs Lockwood Croft, I am going to be a bit
brutal because it is important that we ask you these questions
related to the points we want to raise. Thank you very much, that
is very helpful. I need to be quite clear in my own mind; are
you saying that you object to a national licence or not?
Ms Lockwood Croft: No, as I said
before, we have been campaigning since 1991 that there should
Q185 Chairman: So in fact it is not
the principle, it is the way in which it is going to be implemented?
Ms Lockwood Croft: Yes, and there
is not sufficient diversity to cover the inland waterways.
Q186 Chairman: What measures have
been taken in response to the Marchioness disaster that
have contributed to improved safety?
Ms Lockwood Croft: Through our
campaigning, with the support of the Deputy Prime Minister and
other Labour MPs, which we acknowledge with gratitude, we had
the inquiry. Many people facilitated data to that from many different
groups. From that, slowly over a period of time, safety has changed;
attitudes to it, procedures and laws. One thing we fought and
campaigned for is that there should be alcohol and drug law the
same as we would have on our roads. We also fought for and did
fundraising to obtain the search lifeboats which have proven,
and the RNLI can validate this, to be the busiest crafts throughout
the UK. We were told by professionals that they were not necessary
so we have proven that wrong. We have also campaigned that there
should be emergency exercises, in line with what national airlines
have annually to see that we could deal with an incident. The
very first combined one took place on 1 November 2006 on a bright,
clear day with 25 volunteers to be survivors and 25 dummies thrown
in to be people rescued, and even on that clear day five of the
dummies went missing. To us that would be five dead people that
the family liaison police officers would be knocking on people's
doors to say, "I am sorry, your loved one is dead."
It showed that you need that and I picked up 10 glitches which
they have taken on board. I understand from the professionals
that they are considering doing that once every four years. To
us safety should be reviewed annually and exercises like that
taken on board. All boat owners working on the River Thames should
do that also with their own crews and their own staff to add safety.
Solely through the loss of 51 people we have achieved these standards
and the additional safety factors that have been put in place.
Q187 Mrs Ellman: It has been argued
that the Port of London Authority licensing system was based on
time served rather than assessing skills which is central to this
licence. Do you agree with that?
Ms Lockwood Croft: We have always
maintained that you need comprehensive training and we have pushed
that it should be college based with exams as well as practical
training. We also have advocated over the yearsand we have
written about itsaying that we would like to see such training
as a national licence base coming within our educational system,
so that it is recognised as a college or university degree, depending
on which area they are working in, whether they are bargemen or
sailing in offshore waters or tidal waters. We are also very concerned
about the Port of London Authority in this respect: they are a
trust and, sadly, there is a loophole in the Freedom of Information
Act that trusts are exempt, so that is an area that we would like
to see changed as well, I appreciate that will probably take several
more years of campaigning to get the amendment to the law so that
trusts like that cannot be exempted. We cannot get the information
or facts or figures ourselves from them.
Q188 Mrs Ellman: What sort of information
have you been trying to get?
Ms Lockwood Croft: To get the
full information on how they deal with incidents on the River
Thames, the procedures, and how many they have had, and whether
they were qualified watermen and lightermen pilots or whether
they were not qualified persons who have been practising under
the new EU licence, because there has been some sort of research
or practice on that basis, and we feel that is important.
Q189 Mrs Ellman: Have you tried to
get this information?
Ms Lockwood Croft: Yes we could
not because the answer I got back was they were trusts and they
are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That was validated
by the agency that deals with complaints when I wrote to them,
because I was trying to get details about coroners and I was informed
by them that the coroners are not exempt so they do have to make
comment, but a trust is exempt. We have said before about safety
issues, and our recommendations were again that safety issues
should be under a separate body perhaps because it could be perceivedI
am not saying it necessarily occursthat there is a conflict
of interest between commerce and safety and we would see that
risk of compromise taken away if it was a separate body dealing
Q190 Mrs Ellman: I want to look further
at the provisions of the new licence. One of the issues of concern
that you raised before was about the medical fitness of people
in charge of boats?
Ms Lockwood Croft: Absolutely.
Q191 Mrs Ellman: Under the new licence
there is to be a medical assessment and that did not exist before;
does that not give you more confidence?
Ms Lockwood Croft: We welcome
that but, as I said before, we pointed this out many years ago
back as far back as 1991 to the Ministry, having got documents
that happened to be conveniently passed on to me showing how the
helmsman of the Bowbelle at the time had been passed as
A1 when the poor gentlemen had cancer of the throat, wore a hearing
aid and bifocal glasses. Under the maritime laws he should not
have been given a licence.
Q192 Mrs Ellman: But this will be
changed in the new licence.
Ms Lockwood Croft: Absolutely
and we welcome that. There are areas within it that we positively
welcome. I cannot see that one size fits all. We consider medical
fitness to be necessary and, as with driving, if you had epilepsy
or some illness then you would not be able to hold your road licence,
so that to me is logical and practicable.
Q193 Mrs Ellman: So this is a positive
Ms Lockwood Croft: Absolutely,
I welcome the positive change. What I do not welcome is the fact
that you have gone from five years' training and a college-training
base and extended training facilities down to
Q194 Chairman: We must try and get
everything in. Mr Williams?
Mr Williams: My concern is that
the issue of experience and there being no substitute for it is
not lost entirely and the comment about the feeling that the watermen
base too much on that very aspect of it. When it comes to working
on the river, experience is crucially important and this is what
the watermen and lighter boatmen say, and I am prepared to believe
Q195 Mr Wilshire: Can I just say
at the outset that I too am a bereaved parent, under different
circumstances but equally difficult I suspect, and I therefore
understand how you react to issues of this sort, but forgive us
if we press you a bit. You refer in your submission to relaxing
standards; can I just press you on the detail of what you see
is relaxation, not just the one or two main ones but all of the
issues where you think standards have been relaxed?
Mr Williams: The initial impression
I had from looking at the way in which the qualifications had
been reduced from five years to two years is that there has been
some collapsing of the importance of experience in that, and it
felt like some sort of fast-tracking qualification was being introduced.
From my own experience in my work, fast-track qualifications lead
to shallow learning and shallow learning leads to mistakes. When
safety is involved it concerns me that shallow learning might
become the major baseline for this new licence. I do not think
you should streamline anything in any way where safety is a major
issue. That comes from my work in working in child abuse when
social services tried to streamline services but had to give many
exemptions to the child care departments in order to protect the
fact that they did need more qualifications and more experience.
Q196 Mr Wilshire: Having identified
those as possible causes of trouble if they are relaxing standards,
is there any evidence subsequently to demonstrate that your anxieties
Ms Lockwood Croft: If this licence
remains, time itself will prove from the day-to-day workings by
the experts who work on those rivers and from our personal experience
there will be defects and problems. I have no doubt whatsoever
that incidents will occur on the River Thames and not just on
the River Thames because it is cross-applied to other tidal waters
and other areas, and there will be incidents in other areas of
the British Isles which could lead to loss of life. We cannot
say at this time because the licence was only introduced on 1
January. We need a period of it being in use before we can make
further comment. However, I do not want to see that time proving
our experience and other people's experience who have the expertise
and work on these rivers and inland waterways on a day-to-day
basis right. As I said to you, I wanted to highlight points that
had gone wrong in the past that the departments have made. It
saddens me that we have gone forward and they have supported our
campaigning gradually over the yearsand I have to say those
things that we have succeeded in have been us being like a dripping
tap and nagging people and getting support from MPs to see that
the different stages of recommendations were implementedbut
if you have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money
on inquiries, again what I would put forward straight away is
that you should have an oversight body afterwards to see the recommendations
made are complied with within a reasonable time-frame. I did not
expect 18 years (as it will be this August) after the death of
my son and the other 50 people that I would still be having to
chase to see that safety standards went forward. As I said, we
have craft there that in my opinion, having researched in Europe,
on the Seine and in the Netherlands and Germany, that should have
been removed a long time ago.
Q197 Chairman: Did you want to add
to that, Mr Williams?
Mr Williams: Yes just briefly.
I remember Lord Justice Clarke at the time of the inquiry praising
the watermen and lightermen's licence exactly for requiring a
two-year apprenticeship followed by three years as a professional
waterman. I want to know what has changed since then. As a member
of the public and a layman on the subject, I think, "Fine,
that sounds great," but what has changed in the last 10 years?
Has the river got less busy? It is going to get busy with the
Olympics coming up. I am hearing from the people who work the
river, the watermen and lightermen, that the present licensing
arrangements are not enough. I can only say, "Really, are
they not? You should know." That is what I feel and 10 years
or 12 years ago Lord Justice Clarke saw fit to praise just that
regime of training.
Q198 Mr Wilshire: Can I just press
you on the question I actually asked you and that was about any
evidence that has arisen. I can understand given where you are
coming from and the expertise you have built up that you can point
to these things and say, "They look like lowering of standards
to me." Can I just ask you again: is there any evidence subsequently
of these things producing either an accident or a potential accident?
Ms Lockwood Croft: There is some
evidence. I wrote to my local MP, Gerald Howarth, to see if I
could get the information on the facts and figures of incidents
which have occurred over the last couple of years, which he obtained.
The NCA do not routinely record all incidents to define non-qualified
persons who have had incidents to the qualified, and the number
of unqualified incidents far outweighs any of the professionals
Q199 Chairman: Mrs Lockwood Croft,
I need to know what this evidence was from. Was it from the Department?
Ms Lockwood Croft: Dr Ladyman's