AN ALDERSHOT mother who lost her son in the Marchioness riverboat disaster has welcomed the launch of a Thames lifeboat service, saying he would still be alive today if there had been one in 1989.

Margaret Lockwood Croft believes son Shaun could have been saved if emergency crews had been at the scene within 15 minutes of the disaster.

Fifty-one people died including 26-year-old Shaun - when the Marchioness sank after it was struck by the dredger Bowbelle on the River Thames.

It also claimed the life of 24-year-old Tamsin Cole, who lived at Cypress Drive, Fleet.

Last Wednesday Transport Minister John Spellar launched the new lifeboat service which will provide a 24-hour rapid response from Teddington in the South West to Gravesend in Kent.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution service aims to be more rapid and effective by reaching an emergency on the river in fifteen minutes.

Mrs Lockwood Croft, of York Crescent, has been tirelessly campaigning for better safety on the River with other relatives who set up the Marchioness Action Group in 1990.

Following their relentless pressure on successive governments, an inquiry was set up in October 2000 into the disaster and a report of its findings published in March last year.

In it, Lord Justice Clark criticised the lack of a rescue service in the Thames.

"If there had been a lifeboat service my son would be alive today," Mrs Lockwood Croft said this week.

"He was still alive 20 minutes after the disaster. They should have been rescued."

Mrs Lockwood Croft explained the inquiry heard some of the victims had managed to get out of the boat and waited for help but it did not arrive quickly enough.

She added the new service would be instrumental in improving the safety of the Thames.

However, even though Mrs Lockwood Croft welcomed the move to introduce the lifeboat service she said it was too slow in coming.

She added: "It is somewhat belated. Twelve years is not a reasonable time. It should have happened sometime ago."

Mrs Lockwood Croft claims the RNLI had been prepared to go ahead with the new service in 1992 but was held back by successive governments.

"We've had to campaign different ministers over the years," explained Mrs Lockwood Croft.

"If it had been left to the Department of Transport nothing would have changed. They considered the merchant shipping law, which said the nearest craft would come to the aid of another one, was adequate.

"It is always the bereaved who have to fight for justice and safety improvements."

She added the Marchioness Action Group believed an independent body was paramount to oversee any disaster.

"At the moment the Ministry responsible is overseeing the process," she said. "It's incestuous and allows them to look after themselves rather than the needs of the people."

Mrs Lockwood Croft is also critical of the Department of Transport because she claims it had already thrown out some of the recommendations made in the Inquiry Report.

She added: "They issued the original licences and certificates to the masters and skippers of the riverboat and dredger, so they're the guilty ones.

"The majority of the bereaved blames them. Why should they then be able to throw out the recommendations of the inquiry?"

The Marchioness Action Group is campaigning for a number of items which include improvements in the safety and design of vessels and the training of crews, the regulation of alcohol and drugs and licensing of owners and operators of boats.