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‘My Pals Died. They’re Partying Now’

Author: Jonathan Owen meets Odette Penwarden

“I remember Antonio wanted to have a giant occasion and it was me that
urged we now have it on one of the river boats … because I knew Steve
[skipper of the Marchioness] and that his boat did late-evening events.”

The evening couldn’t have received off to a greater begin, she recalls: “It
had been a good looking, glorious day, there was nice excitement; it was all
very ‘kissy-kissy’ and ‘hello darling’ … there have been all totally different sorts of
folks there.”

The party was in full swing and she was dancing with 28-year-old Jeffrey
Gibbs, one among her finest pals, at around a quarter to two within the morning. “All
of a sudden there was a lurch and the boat swayed … after which there was an
almighty crash and the home windows shattered and water got here in. The only manner I
can describe what it was like was for those who had been in a washing machine as a result of
the water came in and tipped me over. I remember being underneath the water in
the boat, being tossed about.

“I remember popping out, and it was like a champagne cork coming out of a
bottle as a result of there have been quite a lot of us all came out collectively, type of
floundering about …. I might hear screams, I might hear folks crying, a
lot of shouting, lots of people shouting people’s names. And, because the
water was heat, because it was a full moon, it didn’t occur to me that
individuals had been going to die.”

Fifty-one bodies were pulled from the Thames that night time, the occasion boat full
of carefree passengers crushed by the 1,880-ton dredger, Bowbelle, as they
passed under Southwark Bridge.

Lots of the partygoers that night were very younger. At forty two, Yorkshire-born Ms
Penwarden was older than most. She was working as a advertising and marketing govt at
Thames tourism firm Metropolis Cruises back in 1989 ? a job she left shortly
after the disaster. With a failed marriage behind her, she had come to
London in her mid thirties to make a contemporary start.

As the 20th anniversary of the tragedy looms this Thursday, she speaks for the
first time, with remarkable candour, about how she has struggled to rebuild
her life and deal together with her guilt at being the only survivor of a group of
5 people she knew from that evening. We sit together having a cup of tea in
the refectory of Southwark Cathedral, just a few minutes’ stroll away from where
the Marchioness sank. Her memories are sharp and painful.

“I might have died that night time; I got here this close,” she says quietly,
reaching across the table and almost touching her thumb and forefinger
collectively. However her face betrays no major emotion at this point. Her
appearance is remarkably casual. In pale-pink linen trousers, white slip-on
sneakers and a turquoise T-shirt, with tanned face and streaked blonde hair,
she might almost be chatting about her vacation. The actual expression is in
her eyes, which burn intensely as she recalls that evening.

Discovering that her foot was twisted up in a cable, she managed to free
herself and eventually managed to flee the boat via a broken window.
Ms Penwarden refused to simply accept that her pals had been among the useless. “It
wasn’t till two or three days afterwards that I assumed, ‘They’re lifeless,
they’re not coming back …’, and then I acquired offended with them as a result of I was
having to deal with all this they usually have been up there,” ? she appears to be like
heavenwards ? “having a party.”

As she recounts her experiences I’m struck by her calm, direct method ?
testomony to the years of therapy she has gone through. There’s little
apparent sign that she crawled out of a watery hell, that at times she has
resigned herself to dying and contemplated suicide. Years of remedy for
clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder blighted what had
been a promising profession in tourism. Any hopes of an extended-term relationship
are long vanished.

“They say there’s one thing referred to as survivors’ guilt. Nicely, it took me
three-and-a-half years of psychotherapy to return to terms with the truth that
it was me that organised the celebration. I felt so responsible that I’d survived and
Jeff and Antonio and Peter and the others hadn’t survived and it was my idea
to have the occasion on the river in the first place.”

That she lived angered parents of others who didn’t. “With a number of the
mothers, I was made to feel I’d survived and their children had died and that
wasn’t proper ? that their children were so brilliant and had such an excellent
future and I was just a 42-12 months-old lady …. They have been dad and mom of people I
didn’t know, who seemed to me to be very indignant that I’d survived and their
youngster hadn’t.”

One evening, after the funeral of 26-12 months-previous Peter Jay, one other shut buddy
who drowned when the Marchioness sank, she ended up on her personal in a wine bar
and regarded taking her own life. “Somehow I finished up on my own
with folks I didn’t know and had a second of panic.” She left the bar
and headed straight to the river. “I was going to throw myself in the
river and just before I did I assumed I must ring my friend Pauline and
she rang the Samaritans …. One among them came in a cab and picked me up.

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“I haven’t contemplated suicide since, however I used to see lorries and
think one’s going to mount the pavement and crush me …. I assumed it
doesn’t matter if I die, I won’t fight as I fought to get out of the
Marchioness ? I’ll simply let it go.” Unable to work for several
years after the catastrophe, Ms Penwarden took refuge in her religion, becoming
a volunteer at Southwark cathedral, and in preventing for some sort of
justice. She never bought it. “No, there hasn’t been justice,” she
says firmly. “We are not going to get any justice now. We all knew that
at the tip we wouldn’t get wherever, and that’s what happened,” she
says. “We all knew they’d [the Bowbelle crew] been drinking …. It
upsets me that none of them ever stated sorry.”

After years of being plagued by vivid flashbacks and nightmares she nonetheless
needs regular counselling. “To this day I nonetheless can not watch anyone
being underwater on tv … very sometimes I’ll still get a
flashback to that evening.

“I suppose if the Marchioness hadn’t occurred I’d well be in a
relationship now. However the trauma of something like that changes you. I’m
single; I’ve had a few relationships since, but nothing serious and
nothing for some time.” Chuckling, condom shirts the sixty two- year-outdated, who lives in a
studio flat in Beckton, east London, with three cats for company, adds: “When
people say, ‘Are you married?’, I say, ‘I’m fortunately divorced, thank you.’”
Brushing aside the fact that she doesn’t have youngsters, she says: “I
was by no means the maternal kind.”

For the previous few years she has been working at the diocesan office close to
Southwark cathedral. She says “I’ve by no means been happier. It’s the
excellent kind of job for me. I’m front of home and spend all my time on the
cellphone, speaking to clergy and other people like that, and it’s a really nice

However she provides: “My life isn’t exciting any more. I don’t have any
adventures. My life is sweet but it would have been much more enjoyable if they’d
nonetheless been here.”

There are scars that won’t ever heal: she can’t go on crowded Tube trains and
always has to know the place the closest exits are when she is travelling on
trains or buses. “One thing it left me with was this enormous consciousness
of my own mortality and this reality you could die just like that. The one
thing that does upset me sometimes is when I’m strolling throughout London Bridge
within the early evening and i hear music coming from a occasion boat. And it takes
me right back to that night and I feel in regards to the folks on that boat and
hope that they are going to be Ok ? and think about what occurred to us.”

“There has been lots of trauma. The worst factor was dropping a circle of
buddies in a single day. Some of a very powerful people in my life just
disappeared … and one of the toughest issues to come back to terms with after 20
years is that you can’t assist wondering what they can be doing now.”

She adds: “It’s a part of my life but it’s not all my life. I have really
come out of this as a strong woman and I’ve had an extra 20 years and that’s
crucial thing ? the fact that I’m nonetheless right here. I’ve been to hell
and again and it’s taken a long time to be happy, but I’m high-quality now.”

And she walks away, towards London Bridge and the river.

A disaster and its aftermath: The painful route to improved river

August 1989:

Marchioness sinks after colliding with the dredger Bowbelle.

April 1990:

The director for public prosecutions says Bowbelle skipper Captain Douglas
Henderson to be prosecuted for not keeping a proper lookout.

June 1990:

Inquests adjourned till criminal proceedings have ended.

July 1991:

Mr Henderson acquitted after a second jury fails to reach a verdict.

August 1991:

Marine Accident Investigation Branch report blames accident on failure of

November 1991:

Non-public prosecution brought against Bowbelle’s owners.

March 1992:

It emerges that 25 victims had their fingers lower off for fingerprinting.

June 1992:

Manslaughter case towards Bowbelle’s homeowners dismissed.

July 1992:

Coroner refuses to resume inquests. Households battle court docket battle to overturn
the decision.

April 1995:

Inquests resume. Verdict ? unlawful killing.

October 2000:

Public Inquiry begins, led by Lord Justice Clarke.

January 2001:

Lord Clarke’s report blames poor lookouts and criticises house owners of each
vessels; makes 30 suggestions to improve river safety.

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