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Secretary of State for Defence forced to retake decision concerning the raising of artefacts from the wreck of the 18th Century HMS Victory


In light of a claim for judicial review issued by Robert Yorke (the Chairman of the Joint Nautical Archeology Policy Committee), the Secretary of State this week withdrew his approval for certain artefacts to be raised from the wreck of HMS Victory 1737. 

The Secretary of State granted permission in October 2014 for the Marine Heritage Foundation (MHF) to recover at-risk surface items from the wreck of HMS Victory, which was a first-rate British naval warship launched in 1737. The vessel was the flagship of the fleet commanded by Admiral Sir John Balchen and was considered one of the most technically advanced warships in the world at the time. It was the direct predecessor to the vessel bearing the same name commanded by Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, launched in 1765. The 1737 HMS Victory sank in international waters to the west of Alderney in the English Channel in 1744, with the loss of over 1,100 lives.

Mr Yorke contended that the decision to permit MHF to recover items from the wreck was unlawful because: (i) the Secretary of State sanctioned the commercial exploitation of certain artefacts that may have been recovered from the wreck, or failed to consider whether or not such commercial exploitation was likely to occur; (ii) the Secretary of State failed to require MHF to submit an adequate project design, as required by joint guidance issued by the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; and (iii) the Secretary of State failed to ensure that adequate funding arrangements were in place for the removal of items from the wreck, contrary to the joint guidance referred to above.

The link to the Times article is here.

Marie Demetriou QC and Michael Bolding acted for Mr Yorke, instructed by Richard Buxton Planning and Environmental Law.