Here’s a tale guaranteed to put you off your next lobster dinner.  For a while, anyway…

I’ve been spending more time than usual recently in one of favourite parts of Sussex, Shoreham Harbour, the major sea port immediately to the east of Brighton and Hove, and a major commercial port, because I’ve been asked to write the foreword to a book commemorating its 250th anniversary, as well as formally opening the celebrations on July 18th.  To help me with this the Port management kindly took me out on a tug to show me around on an in-depth (no pun intended…!) tour.

Shoreham Harbour
The Shoreham Harbour team. From left to right, Rodney Lunn, Chief Executive, Professor Fred Gray of Sussex University, yours truly, Dennis Scard, Chairman of Shoreham Port Authority and Keith Wadey, Assistant Chief Engineer

It seems that everyone knows only too well that I am partial to the darker side of life, and the port’s delightful Assistant Chief Engineer, Keith Wadey (far right) delighted in pointing out to me all the places along the harbour’s 7.5 mile waterfront where people have gone to a watery grave…  I was accompanied on this ghoulish (well for me anyway!)  tug boat ride by Dennis Scard, Chairman of the Shoreham Port Authority (to my left), Professor Fred Gray of Sussex University,(to my right) the book’s editor, and Rodney Lunn, the Chief Executive (to my far right).

Shoreham Harbour
The quay of Arlington basin, where Clive Olive’s body was found, and where the car, below and its macabre contents were found

Among the many dark events in Shoreham Harbour’s recent past, few can surpass the infamous Ollie Murder:  In 1973 a sixteen year old Hell’s Angel, Clive Olive, made the error of sleeping with the girlfriend of a rival gang leader. In grim revenge, Ollie had a weighted chain wrapped around his ankles, and was dumped into Shoreham Harbour, in his biking leathers, but minus his helmet. An eye witness later admitted that they thought he was dead before he went in, but realized, as he struggled in the water, staring wildly ahead for some moments before sinking, that he had still been alive.

Over the next few weeks, crabs and other shellfish worked away on the exposed areas of his flesh – his head and his ankles (his feet were in his leather boots). Finally all the flesh around the ankles was gone and leaving his weighted feet on the harbour bed, the rest of Ollie floated to the surface.  I remember seeing the crime scene photos some years ago. His skull, picked clean, looked minute and almost comical sticking out of the neck of his bloated biking leathers. His killers were eventually caught and convicted.

Shoreham Harbour
Car being pulled from the depths several weeks later

But on this tour I was told an even more gruesome story, if such is possible!  Every few months the harbour bed is checked, by side-scan sonar, for any vehicles or bodies that may have gone in.  Some years ago, what looked like a car showed up on the scan.  A diver was sent down – Keith Wadey, now the port engineer.  He told me that the bottom is so murky you can’t see a thing, so he was having to go by feel.  He found an upturned car, but had no idea how long it had been there – an hour or two, or several days, or weeks, or even months.  He did what is standard procedure, to knock on the door, in case someone was inside trapped in an air pocket.  But there was no reply. Then with a rescue team operating crane and winch, he attached wires to the rear axle and the car was pulled up from the water. There was nothing inside except what looked like a football, a plump lobster, and an extremely large eel.

Shoreham Harbour
Spot the ball? In the top right hand corner of the window, above the bend in the rope

The eel was chucked back into the harbour, and then the rescue team argued over who would take the lobster home for dinner. Then Keith Wadey retrieved the “football” and realized, to his horror, it wasn’t a football at all. It was a human head, with tufts of hair on. And they realized the reason why the eel and the lobster were so plump… suddenly no one wanted the lobster any more…

Shoreham Harbour
Nice plump lobster – that dieted on human flesh…