Gillian Lashbrooke pictured at home three months before the disaster "I couldn’t believe I was looking at my mum. I loved her so much and she was dead in front of me."

"She wasn’t just my mum, she was my best friend. The night before, she’d given me some money just before I went on deck and said ‘get something to eat love, and I’ll see you in a minute’.

"That minute never came. That was the last time I saw her."

Crew member Henry Graham was working in a kiosk in the drivers’ lounge of the stricken ship.

"It all happened in the blink of an eye. I knew the ship wasn’t coming back from the roll. Things slid off the tables, water came through the windows. The lights went out. There was so much noise – screaming and crashing, the world went upside down."

He managed to clamber on to the side of the ship and helped a young girl to reach a tugboat. He says his first instinct was to return to the Herald but the tug he was on had already left for shore. He couldn’t go back.

"My wife was actually told I was missing presumed dead. But she then saw me on the television news, getting off a bus.

"Afterwards I went on the sick. I wasn’t physically injured, it was all mental. My bosses told me I had to go back to work. I lasted two days.

"Then for nine years I didn’t go anywhere near the sea. It was a mixture of fear and the memories of everyone we’d lost. But I eventually went back. I worked on the ferries again, and now I’m with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary."

Why did the ship sink?

The Herald of Free Enterprise was a roll-on roll-off ferry operating between Dover and Zeebrugge. That afternoon the vessel was at about 40% capacity, mostly carrying passengers from the UK.

It set off without the bow doors being closed and became unstable. Vehicles rolled from port to starboard and back. The ship capsized on to its starboard side on a sandbank, all its lights out, in just 90 seconds.

There was not enough time to send an SOS signal, nor to lower the lifeboats or deploy life jackets.

In the formal inquiry that followed, blame was placed on assistant boatswain Mark Stanley for not closing the bow doors. First officer Leslie Sabel was also blamed for not making sure they were closed while the captain David Lewry was criticised for leaving port without checking the doors had been shut.

It’s 30 years since the deadliest maritime disaster involving a British ship in peacetime

Mr Stanley, who died last year, had fallen asleep in his cabin, only to wake when he was flung from his bunk as the ship listed.

He always admitted his part in the tragedy and expressed great remorse. The official inquiry found he had acted with courage helping people when disaster struck.

The ship’s owner Townsend Thoresen was criticised for its "staggering complacency".

New rules were brought into force, such as installing emergency lighting, CCTV to monitor critical areas of the ferry, and windows that could be broken using a hammer.

One young couple who died were Alison and Francis Gaillard. They had been married for less than two years.

Alison’s mother, Margaret De Rohan, was in Australia when the Herald tipped over – she had not known her daughter and son-in-law were on board until her husband mentioned they had gone on a day trip to Belgium.

The De Rohans flew home, and Mrs De Rohan said she was convinced she would find her daughter alive in hospital.

"I had the strongest feeling in the world I’d find Alison, and that she’d be so badly injured she wouldn’t be able to tell people who she was," she said. "It’s an awful thing for a mother to hope, that her daughter would be so badly hurt.

"We went to Belgium, to the hospital. We were told there were 16 unidentified bodies but Ali and Francis weren’t among them. My husband insisted on going to the morgue to see for himself. He came back, kissed me on the cheek, and said ‘Ali’s there. Francis isn’t’.

"And all our hopes were dashed. I was right, we’d found her in a hospital. I didn’t realise it would be in the morgue. Francis was still on the Herald of Free Enterprise until it was refloated. It took about three and a half weeks before we got his body back. They’re buried together in Windsor cemetery.

"You know, they were a young, idealistic couple. If they’d found something they really, really believed in, I could just imagine they’d sacrifice their lives for it. But not this."

Bill McCrea was chaplain to the Merchant Navy and National Sea Training College and officiated at four of the funerals.

"I was on duty that evening. Several crew members of the Herald were at the college. Gradually, news came through that a British ferry was in trouble. When the men realised it was their ship they became deeply anxious."

He travelled to Dover as soon as he could and spent two weeks in the Seafarers’ Centre providing practical and emotional support.

He said the disaster tested his ministry to the limit.

"It was an incredible shock to my system and I was very anxious. I have dealt with individual loss of life with seafarers’ families over the years, but so many people lost their lives that night. I wanted to do the right things. Who can train you for that? You depend upon the grace of God.

"I knew some of the men who died very well, including a young fellow who was 17. It was his first posting as a seafarer. He’d only just finished his college course.

"I conducted his funeral service, comforting his family as I, too, struggled to come to terms with the devastating loss. As much as I ministered to his family, they ministered to me too."

Some of the families had to wait a long time for the recovery of their loved ones’ bodies.

"One woman had to wait six weeks before they found her husband’s body. I gave her all the support I could during that time.

"I also supported passengers who had survived. I met a woman on one of my hospital visits, she lost her husband that night. She told me the only reason she survived was that a truck driver helped keep her awake by pinching her.

"There were a lot of heroic acts that went on that night."

This article was sourced from