Human remains found in Russia could be missing North East men

Tests are being carried out on remains found in Russia to see if they are missing North East sailors from Hull-based trawler Gaul

Ronald Bowles, circa 1973
Ronald Bowles, circa 1973

Human remains found in Russia could be those of missing North East sailors whose trawler sank in 1974.

Tests are currently being carried out on the remains to establish if they could be the men who lost their lives on the Hull-based Gaul when it sank almost 40 years ago.

There were 36 men on the trawler when it went down in the Barents Sea off Norway, and six of them were from the North Shields area of North Tyneside - Ronald Bowles, 29, Jim McLennan, 18, James Woodhouse, 45, James Wales, 30, Neil Petersen, 51, and chief engineer John O’Brien.

Only the remains of Mr Wales have ever been recovered, back in 2002.

The demise of the trawler had been the subject of speculation, although an official inquiry in 2004 ruled out Cold War conspiracy theories finding the Gaul flooded and sank in heavy storms after the offal chutes seized open.

In 1974 the Barents Sea was a highly sensitive military area and rumours were rife that trawlers operating in the area were involved in spying.

Marjorie and Neil Petersen taken in 1956. Neil died on board the Gaul trawler
Marjorie and Neil Petersen taken in 1956. Neil died on board the Gaul trawler

Yesterday Humberside Police said investigations are being carried out to determine whether the remains discovered on Russia’s Rybachy peninsular in 1974 or 1975 were connected to the Gaul.

Specially trained officers have visited the families of those involved and they have been given the details known about the remains and the ongoing forensic and genetic examinations.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Leaver said: “We have met with all the families of the crew members lost on the Gaul and will continue to provide them with information as it becomes available.

“At the moment the information we have is very limited and we have to wait for the Russian authorities to advise us of the tests they are doing on the remains. We will continue to work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to seek to support families and to provide more details about the remains.”

A FCO spokesman said: “We are aware of reports that a number of human remains have been found on the Rybachy peninsular in northern Russia.

“There is no indication yet that these are British.

“It is for the Russian authorities to determine the nationality of the remains. We have offered to provide assistance if requested.

“We are liaising closely with Humberside Police who have deployed family liaison officers to the families affected.”

The remains of Mr Wales, Maurice Spurgeon, Stanley Collier and Clifford Briggs were found in 2002 but those of the rest of the crew have not been discovered.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer