RELATIVES of the missing Gosport sailor Timmy MacColl have hit out at the Royal Navy for blocking a tribute aimed at highlighting their campaign.
Family members are angry Timmy’s shipmates were not allowed to wear yellow ribbons as a mark of respect to the dad-of-two when HMS Westminster returned home to Portsmouth without him yesterday morning.
And they claimed navy officials asked Timmy’s wife Rachael to cancel the release of 77 yellow balloons at the Round Tower to mark the number of days since the 27-year-old vanished in Dubai.
In a statement issued on behalf of the family, Rachael’s uncle Neil Cunningham said: ‘The Royal Navy will not allow the ship’s company to wear a yellow ribbon and support our campaign to bring Timmy home. They have also approached Rachael directly and asked that we do not release balloons.
‘Clearly the Royal Navy is not keen on our campaign to find Timmy being so public.’
The accusation was swiftly denied by the navy.
A spokeswoman said: ‘This is clearly a difficult time for Mrs MacColl and the Royal Navy recognises the grief, anger and frustrations that she and her family are feeling.
‘The Royal Navy has supported, and continues to support Mrs MacColl in particular. She has a dedicated Royal Navy Personal and Family Service visiting officer, a Royal Navy Police Special Investigations Branch family liaison officer and a Royal Navy media liaison officer.
‘Mrs MacColl has had personal visits and meetings with both the ship’s commanding officer and executive officer and arrangements were made for her to view HMS Westminster’s return privately from a vantage point within Portsmouth Naval Base.’
The spokeswoman said sailors were not permitted to wear yellow ribbons because of dress regulations and said the issue around the balloon release was a ‘misunderstanding’.
She said the navy told Mrs MacColl the balloons couldn’t be released while a Merlin helicopter was performing a fly-past over the ship – not that the tribute should be cancelled.
Despite the row, the balloons were released as planned when Westminster passed the Round Tower.
Rachael’s grandfather Jim Cunningham said: ‘We are not here to cause embarrassment or spoil the day for the families of loved ones coming home, but we need to keep the publicity going.
‘The last thing we need is for this to drop out of the media’s attention which these things have a history of doing.’
Rachael’s mum, Jacqui Brien, added: ‘This was to make sure he is not forgotten. I am numb.’