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Spoof website story on Sheppey wreck caused panic

A hoax website report about Second World War bomb ship the SS Richard Montgomery caused panic on the Isle of Sheppey.

Southend News Network published a spoof on its website last night (Wednesday) claiming strange noises had been heard coming from the wreck in the Thames Estuary and homes on the Essex coast were being evacuated.

But when Sheppey mum-of-four Tracey Edwards read the report on Facebook this morning she believed it and called the Sheerness Times Guardian in panic.

The SS Richard Montgomery off the coast of Sheerness Picture: Barry Crayford
The SS Richard Montgomery off the coast of Sheerness Picture: Barry Crayford

She said: “I am really panicking. I have four children and live by the sea wall at Queenborough. My elderly parents live on the seafront at Marine Parade, Sheerness.

"I don’t know whether we should be evacuating. We have always been told that if the Montgomery blows up the tidal wave will swamp the Island.”

The newspaper received at least three other similar calls.

Furious Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson immediately scotched the rumours. He said: “I am confident this is not true. If there was any change in the condition of the wreck the people of Sheppey would be the first to know.

"This is a totally irresponsible hoax and, if it is causing panic to my constituents, quite possibly dangerous, too.”

Gordon Henderson
Gordon Henderson

Peel Ports monitors the wreck 24-hours a day from Sheerness docks.

After the report was confirmed as a hoax Tracey, whose children range from three to 12 years, said: “It was 100 per cent irresponsible and scary. It was horrible. My first thought was to take my children out of school. It’s really upsetting. One day it could happen for real and then no one will believe it. Imagine how it is if you are elderly?”

The website report was headlined: “Evacuation alert after ‘humming noise’ heard at explosive Thames wreck SS Montgomery.”

It went on: “Shortly after 7pm this evening, naval chiefs activated an evacuation order as a precaution, and everyone living within 200m of the wreckage has now been ordered to leave their homes and businesses immediately.

“The cause of the hissing noise and buzzing is currently unclear but we have heard unconfirmed reports that a child was spotted throwing pebbles into the exclusion zone from a fishing boat this morning.

“Although experts have advised the public that a full explosion is ‘almost very nearly inconceivably impossible,’ Essex and Kent social media accounts are already full of people who have spotted Anderson shelters in neighbouring gardens.”

Peel Ports in Sheerness
Peel Ports in Sheerness

The site, which carries the strap-line “The latest news from Southend, honest...” began: “A group of Thames estuary mud-walkers have reported that there is currently a humming noise coming from the wreck of the SS Montgomery – the wrecked ship resting between Essex and Kent that has enough live explosives on board to potentially redraw the map of Northern Europe.

“A team of experts from Southend are currently at the site of the wreckage, and it has now been confirmed that there is also a quiet hissing sound and the occasional ‘puff’ of smoke.”

The report was posted on The Gossip Board – Sheppey Facebook page.

Southend News Network was launched in October 2015 to have the “occasional ‘dig’ at the powers that be.”

According to its website it’s only staff member, the self-declared chief reporter, has “chosen to keep his identity under wraps for now.”

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