DUBAI // An inquiry has been launched by the British navy into the way it handles missing persons cases after the disappearance of seaman Timmy MacColl.
This was revealed yesterday after a relative of the missing sailor accused some of his shipmates of giving false information about the night he vanished in Dubai.
Mr MacColl was last seen early on May 27 while on shore leave after his ship, HMS Westminster, docked at Port Rashid. Friends who were with him that night gave statements to the authorities.
But Brenda Cunningham, the grandmother of Mr MacColl’s wife Rachael, said the ship’s commanding officer Capt Nick Hine revealed the shipmates had changed their statements.
“We, Timmy’s family, know for a fact that they changed their statements at least four times – the captain told us that,” Mrs Cunningham said.
She called on the navy to introduce better procedures to deal with similar cases.
A navy spokesman confirmed an inquiry had been convened.
“The purpose of a service inquiry is to determine the facts of a particular matter and, where applicable, to make recommendations aimed at preventing a recurrence and maintaining operational effectiveness,” the spokesman said.
“It does not attribute blame. In this case, the inquiry has been convened to assess current processes, policies and procedures relating to the reporting and handling of a missing persons case within the royal navy.
“It is not a royal navy investigation into Leading Seaman MacColl’s disappearance. The Dubai Police have primacy for the investigation and search in Dubai.”
Mrs Cunningham said the crewmates’ statements had not helped the inquiry, and the investigation was hampered further because a photo of the wrong man was distributed by officers searching for Mr MacColl.
“What people have to realise is that all of Timmy’s family are very angry about how time was wasted at the very beginning – wrong photo, shipmates not giving correct statements, et cetera,” she said. “Police time was wasted because of this. [It was] not the fault of the police at all.”
Mrs Cunningham made the comments on the Facebook page of the Bring Timmy Home group, which has more than 110,000 members.
“If Timmy comes home and sees what the family have gone through he would not be pleased with his so-called shipmates,” she said. “We are Timmy’s voice at the moment and we will get to the truth.”
The navy spokesman said: “These questions form part of the investigation and it would not be appropriate to comment beyond confirming that witness statements have been made.
“The ministry of defence and royal navy continue to liaise with and provide assistance to the Dubai authorities. The foreign and commonwealth office also remains in contact with the Emirati police about their ongoing investigation.”
Mr MacColl, 27, from Gosport in Hampshire, was last seen entering a taxi outside the Rock Bottom Cafe at the Regent Palace Hotel in Bur Dubai just after 2am.
Two shipmates, a man and a woman, say they paid the fare and asked the driver to take him back to the Westminster at Port Rashid, but he never arrived.
The Westminster returned to the UK without Mr MacColl last month after a six-month mission in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
His wife, 25, is due to give birth to the couple’s third child in October. Members of the Facebook group have donated cash to buy gifts that were presented to Mrs MacColl at a baby shower.
Mrs Cunningham posted on Facebook: “The community spirit was at its best, a lovely time, really enjoyed it.”