UK to release investigation into deadly 2004 French trawler sinking off Cornwall

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A British coroner will report on Friday the conclusions of his investigation into the sinking in 2004 of a French trawler in British waters, which left five dead.

Judge Nigel Lickley heard weeks of testimony last month about the sudden sinking of the Bugaled Breizh off Cornwall in south-west England, despite the good weather 17 years ago.

The bodies of two of the deceased fishermen were found by British search and rescue teams.

Lawyers for the families of the French victims argue that a submarine operating in the region at the time could have struck the boat and shot it down.

But the Defense Ministry insisted that none of its submarines were active in the exact area and that the trawler’s nets likely got caught in the sediment, dragging it to the bottom.

Lickley, a High Court judge serving as coroner, was originally due to render his decision last month but postponed it until November 5 as he assessed the evidence.

The London investigation learned that three submarines from the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain were operating in the general area near the site of the tragedy, as they planned Allied military exercises.

But the families’ suspicions focused on another submarine, a British Royal Navy nuclear-powered ship HMS Turbulent.

The navy, however, ruled out any involvement, pointing out that the Turbulent was docked on the day of the sinking, January 15, 2004.

Defense Department attorney Edward Pleeth denied that an Allied submarine could have been the cause of the tragedy, as both sides presented their final submissions.

Experts called during the hearing had “totally ruled out the involvement of a submarine,” he said, adding that the evidence pointed to a fishing accident.

“Each proposal for alternative explanations was rejected in full by your independent lawyer,” he told the judge.

French justice, after years of investigations that delayed the full British hearing, said in 2016 that it was unable to reach a definitive conclusion.

Coroner’s inquests are being held in England and Wales to try to establish the causes and circumstances of sudden or unexplained deaths on a balance of probabilities.

They do not determine criminal or civil liability but set out facts of public interest.

In particularly sensitive cases, including national security matters, a judge may be appointed to oversee the proceedings.

(AFP)

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