Only picture of my mystery man dad

Derek Wilson who was killed in the Zeebrugge tragedy seen on the left of the picture
Derek Wilson who was killed in the Zeebrugge tragedy seen on the left of the picture

THIS is the only photo of Sheffield Zeebrugge victim Derek Wilson.

It is one his daughter cherishes.

His face half hidden behind a pint pot, the image is just like many of Derek’s secrets, refusing to give up the full story.

But Derek left a huge legacy of at least 10 children and several ‘wives’ in an existence as complicated as the man himself.

The dad of six children with common-law wife Jean Wilson, of Waterthorpe, turned out to have another wife and daughter in Amsterdam and, it is believed, a woman in Malta.

He had been married twice before in Sheffield, with three more children.

Daughter Liesl, who spoke of her dad for the first time today on the 25th anniversary of the Zeebrugge disaster, said: “I always remember him coming back after months, usually in the middle of the night, and mum would say, ‘There’s somebody downstairs to see you’.

“He’d be here a few weeks and have buckets of money.

“He’d take us on days out – then just disappear.”

Born near Abbeydale Road in 1925, Derek Merryweather Wilson served time in the Merchant Navy and prison. Said to be handsome and charming, he was also a petty criminal – and one with several aliases.

When he died he was wanted by police in Sheffield for deception.

Liesl, a warehouse worker, said: “He came from quite a well-to-do family. It’s surprising he turned out to be the rogue he was. He was a very good looking, well dressed, smart fellow.”

Liesl, brother Christopher, and their four other siblings in Waterthorpe hadn’t seen him for a year before his death.

And when news of the Zeebrugge disaster broke the day after Liesl’s 20th birthday, she and her family watched the TV in horror along with the rest of the nation.

But they had no clue Derek had been in Belgium and had been on the doomed ferry.

In fact Derek had been travelling on a false passport with a birth certificate registered to a Cecil Naftel, of London – which meant his body was last to be identified. Only a nationwide appeal mentioning a tattoo on his left forearm uncovered who he really was.

Six weeks after the disaster, a police officer knocked on the door of the family home on Hilltop Crescent.

The news thrust his Sheffield family into a nationwide media spotlight. Jean - who died three years ago aged 71 – told The Star at the time he was a good father who loved his children.

Liesl said: “I remember lots of people coming to the house, reporters, a TV man, a guy from a magazine. It was really weird. It wasn’t nice at all.”

It was when Jean tried to put in a compensation claim that the family learned Derek had family in Amsterdam. She had known of his first marriage in Sheffield, which ended in divorce, but not his second. It also emerged he and Jean weren’t married at all.

“Discovering your mum wasn’t married to your dad, and that you’d got brothers and sisters, was a shock,” said Liesl. “But everyone liked him, even though he did bad things. I will think about him all day today.

“For years I have wanted to travel to Zeebrugge – apparently there was a pub there where he got friendly with the landlord. I’d still love to.”