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Norwegian government finally pays out for 1983 Byford Dolphin diver death

October 20, 2009

Byford Dolphin

The children of a Northumberland diver killed in an oil rig blast have finally won a fight for justice with the Norwegian government – 26 years after the tragedy.

Stephen Lucas was just 10 when his father Roy, 38, died in a diving bell accident off the Norwegian coast in November 1983. Mr Lucas was killed with four other divers during the tragedy at the Byford Dolphin rig.

Families of the victims were initially told the blast was an accident caused after air had escaped from the diving bell because gauges had been tampered with.

But the North Sea Divers Alliance (NSDA) later uncovered a report suggesting faulty equipment was to blame.

And now 36-year-old Stephen has been awarded a six-figure sum in compensation from the Norwegian Government following a two-year battle for justice. That cash sum will be matched for each of his two sisters, who also get pay-outs.

Last night Stephen criticised the Norwegian government, claiming they had shown no remorse for the tragedy that had devastated the family.

The father-of-three, of Seghill near Cramlington, Northumberland, said: “We’ve never even received an apology and that’s disgusting. It was December that we were told we did not meet the criteria for compensation. It was then that my sister contacted a solicitor and when push came to shove the Norwegian government decided to review the case.

“We ended up receiving a majority vote and now we are being granted the compensation. But it doesn’t matter because no amount of money will be enough.”

Roy was killed just a month before he was due to see his son and two daughters – Heidi, then 14, and Clare, eight – for the first time since he and their mother Frances separated eight years earlier.

In the years that followed, Stephen was forced to care for his mother after she developed MS. She died aged just 37.

He said, “It’s been a very long fight – it’s around two years ago that the new information came to light. I’m pleased it’s all over but there’s still a lot to fight for. My sister is still dealing with the Government to try to get the back-dated child pension that we were due.”

Mr Lucas, an unemployed agricultural worker, lives with his wife Lisa, 33, and children Billy Joe, 13, Chantelle, 10, and Stephen, eight.

His agony has been prolonged by a legal loophole which stated that because Roy was a British citizen he was not registered in the Norwegian national insurance scheme and would therefore would not be entitled to compensation.

NSDA spokesman Tom Wingen described the Norwegian government’s legal stance as “ridiculous” and said he was still pursuing legal action in the European Court of Human Rights.

He said, “You can’t really call this a success – this family are getting part of what they were due many years ago.

“This family have had an incredibly tough life. If they had received the compensation or the benefits that they were legally entitled to at the time of their father’s death, their childhood would have been substantially improved.

“I don’t consider this a victory because it’s a very sad state of affairs that it has taken this long.”

The Norwegian government was unable to respond to a request to comment yesterday. But a statement by the Norwegian labour ministry last year said, “The Norwegian state has not denied that divers have been injured as a consequence of diving in relation to the petroleum activity in the North Sea during the pioneer period. The state admits a responsibility on the basis of moral and political aspects, but does not acknowledge any legal liability.”

Moral maze

Norway discovered oil on its continental shelf in 1971. The period that followed saw a rush for oil in the North Sea and, at that point, the nature of the work carried out by the divers was often exploratory.

In 1975 reports claimed a North Sea diver could earn as much as £2,000 a month – the equivalent of £14,000 a month today.

But a court case taken against the Government by 24 former divers raised troubling questions about the morality of Norway’s actions during the oil boom.

The families of the divers claim their loved ones were treated as human guinea pigs and were made to work 13-hour shifts.

And the Norwegian Dagbladet newspaper has highlighted the history of the forgotten divers through their families.

While the Norwegian government has admitted moral responsibility for the divers, it will not take legal responsibility.

In 2004 the Norwegian parliament authorised a payment of Kr2.5million (£240,000) each for 200 divers, but that excluded most relatives of foreign divers.

The families of many British divers killed in the North Sea have never been tracked down.

Among those killed was North Easterner George W. Turner.

Mr Turner, 37, died in 1975 while diving for oil company Comex Norway. Records show he had a wife, Jean, two daughters Gillian and Julie and a son, Michael, but none have ever been located.

Timeline

1983 – Roy Lucas dies after an explosion on the Norwegian semi-submersible oil rig, the Byford Dolphin. At the time, another diver, Billy Crammond, was blamed for the explosion, in which he too was killed.

2001 – The Byford Dolphin is left adrift in a storm. The company claimed there was no serious danger to the 71 workers.

2002 – A 44-year-old Norwegian worker on the rig died in an industrial accident. The accident resulted in the Byford Dolphin losing an exploration contract with Statoil, who expressed concerns with the rig’s operating procedures.

2008 – Roy Lucas’s daughter, Clare, joins the families of seven other British divers – who all died between the 1960s and 1980s – to submit formal applications for compensation.

2009 – The Lucas family are awarded a six-figure payout.

www.journallive.co.uk

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