'Bad stuff' happening on iconic Truro boat which needs to be destroyed

The Compton Castle pictured in May 2023 when it sank
-Credit: (Image: Port of Truro)


"There has been some pretty bad stuff happening on that boat recently; blue light services have been called there and the risk to emergency workers is very high. For me, any amount of money is worth preserving life because that's how bad it is on that boat." Those were the stark words of the Cornwall Harbours Board chairman as members discussed the decision to break up the historic Compton Castle boat on Truro's Lemon Quay.

A board meeting heard yesterday (Thursday, March 14) that the paddle steamer, which is now in a poor condition, has been the centre of drug-taking and other antisocial behaviour. Drug-taking paraphernalia, including needles, have been found "scattered" across the deck.

During a meeting at New County Hall / Lys Kernow in Truro, the board discussed a plan to have the privately-owned boat broken up at a cost of £200,000 of public money, split evenly between the Port of Truro authority's reserve fund and the Truro Town Deal board, which is planning its own £1.5 million renovation of Lemon Quay from the money being given by the government. The question of why it will cost so much and why the boat's owner, Porthia Ltd, whose directors are Brian and Alison Ellsmore, wasn't paying for its removal was raised at the meeting.

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Committee member Councillor Ian Shipperley said: "This is a really difficult problem. Are there any other options because £100,000 out of the reserve is a big wedge? It's dead money. Is there any option to perhaps sell it to somebody with a dowry that's less than £100,000 but gets it off our hands and they take it away? Or remove the brows to stop people being antisocial on board and we leave it there? It just seems a lot of money wasted on something when we have better things to spend the money on."

Cornwall Harbours' maritime manager Chris Jones said that various options had been looked at, including asking the Town Deal board if it would invest in the vessel and return it to its former glory. The meeting heard that income from the boat up until recent times had been "significant", so some of that income would have gone into the reserve coffers, which would help pay for its removal.

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Truro harbourmaster Captain Mark Killingback said the Compton Castle "has become a pariah in the centre of Truro. At many meetings we have been getting difficult questions about what we're doing to remove this focus of antisocial behaviour. It was really unpleasant what we witnessed there - needles scattered across the deck. It's a real eyesore and I think the time has come for the vessel to go and the site to be tidied up in line with the Town Deal project."

Cllr Peter Channon questioned why the Town Deal board was not paying for the whole removal: "They're getting the maximum benefit from this - we're not getting any benefit at all."

The Compton Castle pictured last month. It has now become home to rough sleepers
The Compton Castle pictured last month. It has now become home to rough sleepers -Credit:Port of Truro

Board chairman Cllr Loic Rich replied: "That's a good question, which I also asked. Is it really our problem? We're the harbour authority - it's not our job just to make things look pretty. The problem is the boat does need to be gone for a range of reasons, including on safety grounds as there has been some pretty bad stuff happening on that boat recently; blue light services have been called there and the risk to emergency workers is very high. For me, any amount of money is worth preserving life because that's how bad it is on that boat.

"There will come a stage when we will have to take statutory action to remove it and the costs will be going up every year."

Mr Jones added: "I don't think the Town Deal would pay the full amount because they see there is a level of responsibility with the harbour authority. Ultimately, we'd benefit from the future rental from that site."

Cllr Rich made it clear the cost would not be coming from taxpayers but from income from the Port of Truro, and that the bulk of the cost was due to environmental permits rather than the actual work to break up the boat, which has been on Lemon Quay for 42 years.

The meeting heard that the harbour authority's legal team is in talks with the current owner, Porthia Ltd, to recover both the rent, which hasn't been paid for a year, and a contribution towards disposal.

The maritime manager told the board that without the Compton Castle's presence the prime waterside site's rental value would be around the £20,000 mark. Speaking about the break-up fees, he added: "I think the cost is quite reasonable when you take into account the size of the vessel and location. The cost of removing the Durandal from Boscawen Park was £43,000, which was a much easier site to access than this one and a much smaller vessel. It does offer good value for money. The contractor we've spoken to has held his original price from well over a year ago. We will make sure we get best value for money."

The harbours board unanimously voted to approve the start of the break-up process and seek match funding from Truro Town Deal board, but would also pursue recovery costs from the owner.

According to Companies House, Porthia Ltd, with a registered office address at Godrevy House, Trewidden Road, St Ives, is a developer whose latest accounts are overdue. Its directors are Brian David Ellsmore, 77, with a correspondence address at Carbis Bay, and occupation of developer, and Alison Ellsmore, 58, whose correspondence address is the same as the company and occupation listed as secretary. Two other directors and three secretaries have resigned since the firm was formed in 2004.