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Fresh challenge to Prescott in shipwreck divorce wrangle

Journalist Graham Smith is challenging Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to “do the honourable thing” and allow Sheila Doone to marry the man who has been at her side through the emotion of an undersea survey of the sunken Gaul.

The Hull factory trawler sank 28 years ago at the height of the Cold War in the Barents Sea with the loss of all 36 crew – but the lack of a body means that Sheila cannot remarry.

She would like to marry the partner who has supported her in recent years, but has been told by her local registrar that she cannot until she divorces her first husband – even though she receives a widow’s pension.

Now, after a survey of the wreck, the remains of several crew have been discovered, which may give Sheila new hope.

Graham, editor of the Aireborough Advertiser, said: “In December 2000 I appealed to Mr Prescott to step in and do something about the bizarre situation in which she found herself. After going to her local registrar with her partner she was refused permission to marry.

“It is quite clear that permission was refused because in 1978 Alan Waterworth said he saw John Doone, The Gaul’s radio operator, in a bar in Port Elizabeth South Africa.

“The matter was passed through various governmental hands including the Attorney General and Treasury solicitors. The effect? The refusal was even more adamant and rubber stamped from on high.”

He said that someone was putting a lot of credence on the sighting – to the extent that Sheila was told she would have to “divorce” John Doone, or go through a lengthy legal process to obtain a death certificate.

She refused to divorce him on principle and could not contemplate the expense of lengthy legal proceedings.

Graham added: “On The Seisranger we are told there are remains indicating six individual bodies. Whether John Doone is one we will not know for a considerable time until DNA matching takes place.

“What we do know is that before the survey set sail families were told that if identifiable remains of six crew members were found that would be sufficient to draw the conclusion that all the crew had been on board at the time of the sinking. Using that yardstick, and a touch of humanity and common sense, why should Sheila Doone not be allowed to remarry the man who has been her tower of strength for some years now?”

In his letter to John Prescott he said: “At the moment Mr Prescott Sheila Doone does not know for certain if that happened to her.

“The survey which you sent into The Barents Sea may tell her. The criteria which you set for satisfaction that all the crew were on board appear to have been met.

“I invite you, as Deputy Prime Minister, to intervene and show humanity at a time when Sheila Doone and every Gaul family member deserves it. Tell her she can remarry. End the torment.”

  • Graham’s Mediaworld web pages beat the world with The Gaul story, publishing the news that bodies were found. One family member has already been told by legal representatives that his father has been identified.

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