Grieving families allege a cover-up over trawler sinking
The nine-year investigation into the sinking off the Cornwall coast of the Breton trawler Bugaled Breizh, with the loss of five fishermen, has been wound up by two French judges.
Angry relatives of the lost crew and their lawyers announced immediately that they will launch an appeal for the investigation to be resumed.
They claim the French and British navies staged an elaborate cover-up, failing to come clean about submarines' positions and closing ranks to protect a rogue submarine involved in a war games exercise off The Lizard which they believe caused the men's deaths.
The judges' decision to halt the inquiry came despite an early conclusion that it was "highly probable" the Breton boat was dragged beneath the waves by a submarine which snagged its trawl cables.
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The judges rejected a submission by one of the French families' lawyers containing new evidence pointing the finger at the Devonport-basedsubmarine HMS Turbulent.
The lawyer, Dominique Tricaud, claimed to have uncovered documents this summer allegedly submitted by the Royal Navy which had been in the possession of earlier judges for eight years but which, he claimed, were never studied.
The lawyer requested judges to interview the captain of another British submarine who, he claimed, had stated that Turbulent was in the area where the trawler went down and returned to Plymouth after radioing that she had suffered damage.
He also asked the judges to probe a confidential NATO message uncovered by French journalists which indicated that Turbulent was at sea on the day of the tragedy.
However, earlier this year Nantes prosecutor Brigitte Lamy accepted evidence that the Trafalgar-class submarine was "definitely in port" in Plymouth when the fishing tragedy occurred.
Other lawyers believe a US submarine engaged in a covert mission in The Channel was responsible.
In a statement yesterday, the two judges, based in Nantes, announced: "Multiple investigations have been carefully undertaken over a period of nine years. In the absence of evidence which is genuinely fresh and sufficiently indisputable, there are no grounds to pursue the enquiry."
The announcement sparked angry reactions in Brittany. Owner of the trawler Michel Douce called the decision "scandalous".
He said: "This case really must be embarrassing for certain parties for them to give up like this."
Christian Bergot, lawyer for the families, spoke of "acrimony" and others voiced their mistrust and "disgust" at the judges' decision.
In a joint statement the families said they would appeal against the decision and take their case to the European Court of Justice if necessary.
The Bugaled Breizh sank in broad daylight in less than a minute on January 15, 2004.
Another French fishing boat in the area heard a frantic radio message from her skipper shouting: "Come quickly. We are sinking".
Initially, French authorities pointed the finger at a hit-and-run cargo vessel. The wrecked trawler was later recovered and towed back to Brest.
Inquests into the deaths of two of the five men, whose bodies were recovered, were opened and adjourned by Cornwall coroner Dr Emma Carlyon in 2004. No date for a full hearing has been set.