Two daughters of a naval gunner, who died during the Second World War when his merchant navy vessel was torpedoed, today won the second round of their fight to have the wrecked ship which lies off Hastings protected as a war grave.
Rosemary Fogg, 74, and Valerie Ledgard, 66, won a key High Court ruling last December that the Government must reconsider its decision that the vessel, the SS Storaa, cannot be protected as a war grave as it was a merchant navy ship and so the 21-strong crew died not on military service.
Mr Justice Newman ruled then that a qualification that 'military service' be interpreted narrowly in order to avoid the Government facing an "administrative burden" could have "no place" in legislation intended to respect the dead and protect the sanctity of their remains.
However, the Ministry of Defence challenged that ruling. But today three of the country's top judges headed by Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, dismissed their challenge.
Sir Anthony said, in upholding last year's decision : "We have reached the conclusion that the judge was justified in reaching these conclusions. As we see it, the Secretary of State did not consider the question as broadly as he should have done."
He said that the Defence Secretary had "applied too narrow a construction" on the law when refusing the request for the Storaa to be protected as a war grave.
If the Ministry of Defence does now its mind in the light of the court's ruling, merchant navy veterans hope it will lead to special protection for the watery graves of more than 30,000 other Second World War merchant navy sailors, currently at risk from divers and salvagers.
The two women had argued that it was wrong in law to treat the armed vessel, which had a mainly Danish crew and was sunk 10 miles south of Hastings en route to Cardiff with a cargo of steel, as outwith the definition of 'military service' They argued that it was sailing in convoy, and had already beaten off one attack before it was torpedoed.
The MoD's, however, had argued that the legal definition of 'in military service' in the 1986 Protection of Military Remains Act had a very restrictive meaning and would not in practice apply to most merchant ships.
In the decision backed by the court today though Mr Justice Newman said : "If merchant vessels sank with loss of life in 'military service' then the vessels and the remains of those who died are capable of being protected by designation. There is nothing in the Act which supports the class of vessels which qualify being interpreted narrowly so as not to cause an administrative burden to the State.
"Indeed, having regard to the aim and object of the Act and the importance of its purpose, namely according respect to the dead and protecting the sanctity of human remains, being considerations at the forefront of the values of a civilised society, such a qualification unless clearly expressed can have no place."