How to identify a body: the Marchioness disaster and my life in forensic pathology
In my career, I have investigated many of the UK’s worst disasters. Few cases were as harrowing as the sinking of the Marchioness in 1989, which left scores dead and almost impossible to identify. By Richard Shepherd
- Warning: this piece contains graphic descriptions of dead bodies.
I took a call early one Sunday morning in August 1989 to warn me that there had been a disaster. It was during the summer holidays and I was the forensic pathologist in charge of London and the south-east of England. At this stage, no one knew how many bodies there would be but one thing was certain: there would be bodies.
The catastrophe had occurred on the River Thames. I waited for more news before setting off; my first stop was the police pier in Wapping, to the east of the city. A leisure boat had sunk somewhere near Southwark and bodies recovered from the vessel were here. That was all I knew. An old police sergeant greeted me and, to my astonishment, he was close to tears.