‘Loveable rogue’ dad died in disaster

Zeebrugge ferry disaster - 6th March 1987'Car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise, which was enroute to the British port of Dover, capsized shortly after leaving Zeebrugge with an estimated 590 passengers and 60 crew members on board.'Recue workers continue their search for survivors 7th March 1987.
Zeebrugge ferry disaster - 6th March 1987'Car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise, which was enroute to the British port of Dover, capsized shortly after leaving Zeebrugge with an estimated 590 passengers and 60 crew members on board.'Recue workers continue their search for survivors 7th March 1987.

THE daughter of a Sheffield man killed in the Zeebrugge ferry disaster 25 years ago today has spoken for the first time on the anniversary of the tragedy about her beloved ‘rogue’ dad.

Casanova, fugitive, and small-time criminal Derek Wilson was one of 193 people killed when the Herald of Free Enterprise 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.

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

Today his daughter Liesl Lawrence, 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.”

Speaking for the first time of the news that turned her life upside down Liesl, now a gran aged 45, 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 (left) escaped. Fellow survivor Richard Leigh, 25, from Chesterfield, also lived to tell of the ferry chaos.

There was another local link – the owners of the 8,000 tonne ferry were Townsend Thoresen, based in Sheffield.

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.