Channel dinghy tragedy: Bereaved families criticize investigation |  UK news

Channel dinghy tragedy: Bereaved families criticize investigation | UK news

Bereaved families who lost relatives in a mass drowning in the Channel a year ago have criticized the British body investigating the tragedy for a lack of progress in determining how and why dozens of lives were lost.

A preliminary report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch published on Thursday confirmed that the boat had reached British waters.

Initially, officials believed the tragedy was outside their jurisdiction because the bodies and survivors were found in the French section of the Channel.

But an investigation into the UK search and rescue response was launched in January “when it became clear that some of the incidents linked to this loss of life had occurred in UK waters”, the report said.

It adds that when officials dispatched search and rescue services, there was no sign of the boat or its passengers.

In the incident on 24 November 2021, 31 people drowned after repeatedly making SOS calls to French and British emergency services.

Of those aboard the overcrowded dinghy, 27 bodies were found. Four are still missing. Only two people survived the disaster, which was the worst maritime incident of its kind in the Channel for 30 years.

Speaking through their lawyer on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, the families expressed dismay at the interim two-page report from the MAIB.

The bereaved families are further concerned because on Wednesday they received generic letters via text or WhatsApp from the MAIB that did not refer to either them or their lost loved ones by name, and asked them to provide evidence to the inquest, such as last phone calls they may have had with their relatives when the dinghy began to empty early on 24 November. Relatives say they do not understand why it has taken MAIB a year to get in touch with them.

Maria Thomas, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: “There has been no speed and no transparency in the legal case brought by the bereaved families. Speed ​​is critical because it ensures the preservation of evidence, and it is concerning that it has taken so long to contact the families.

“Families were sent depersonalized letters without their name or the name of the relative they lost, the day before the anniversary, which made them feel that the investigators did not care about them. This has further weakened their confidence in the MAIB investigation.”

She added: “We must have an independent investigation into what happened that night. The English and French sides should have access to each other’s records from the night of the drowning. If there are systemic problems that caused the boat to sink that night, these must be identified in an independent investigation to ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again.”

A spokesperson for MAIB said: “On the anniversary of the accident, our thoughts go out to those who lost loved ones in this tragedy. While it may not be possible to understand exactly what happened at the time of the accident, it is important that we examine whether the UK’s emergency preparedness was appropriate on the night when it became clear that migrant boats may be in distress in UK waters.

“The purpose of our investigation is to improve safety and if lessons can be learned, and if deemed appropriate, we will make recommendations to address the issues identified. Our investigation is ongoing and we expect to publish it in early summer 2023.”

The spokesman added that tracing the victims’ families was “a complex process”.

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