Four "wives," ten children and false passports - the "lovable" Sheffield "rogue" who died in Zeebrugge ferry disaster 30 years ago today

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, a tragedy which claimed the lives of 193 people in Britain's worst peactime shipping disaster since the Titanic sank.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th March 2017, 10:11 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:45 am
Sheffield man Derek Wilson was among the victims of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987.
Sheffield man Derek Wilson was among the victims of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987.

And among the victims on the ill-fated Herald Of Free Enterprise car ferry that day was a Sheffield man - with a remarkable story which included four "wives," at least ten children around the globe and false passports.

Casanova, fugitive, and small-time criminal Derek Wilson was on board the Townsend Thoresen ferry which capsized off the coast of Belgium on March 6, 1987.

But the 61-year-old’s death remained unknown to his family in Waterthorpe for six weeks - as Abbeydale-born Derek had travelled with a false passport, and often spent months away from home.

On the 25th anniversary of the disaster in 2012, his daughter Liesl Lawrence spoke of her beloved ‘rogue’ dad - and how had girls in different ports around the world.

Only afterwards did the family learn the extent of his double life - one lived with several names, four ‘wives’ and at least 10 children around the globe.

Liesl of Beighton, said: “At the end of the day he was my dad, and I loved him very much.

“But I think for years he must have had all these women in different ports all over the world.

“In the 1960s he was pretty well known around Sheffield as a bit of a cad, a ladies’ man, a rogue.”

Liesl, said: “Six weeks after Zeebrugge a police officer came to our door, said my father had passed away, and my brother and mum needed to go down to Dover to identify his body.

“He was the fifth person out of the water but the very last to be identified.

“It was absolutely terrible. I was walking around for weeks thinking, ‘It can’t be, it can’t be’.”

It happened 350 miles away but Zeebrugge’s human cost touched the lives of many in the region.

The worst peacetime shipping disaster since the Titanic sank in 1912, the tragedy claimed 193 lives of passengers and crew after the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized moments after leaving the Belgian port.

The ferry turned over so quickly there was no time even for an SOS.

Among those who died was Alan Firbank, a 22-year-old fireman’s son from Doncaster. Alan’s body was one of the first to be brought back to Britain.

Rotherham couple Georgina and Richard Davies escaped. Fellow survivor Richard Leigh, 25, from Chesterfield, also lived to tell of the ferry chaos.

A public inquiry found the disaster happened due to negligence by the captain, its first officer, assistant bosun and by Townsend Thoresen itself. Unlawful killing was the verdict at an inquest.