TWO rowing boats have been launched in memory of former Wirral councillor Neil Thomas, who died after a long battle with throat cancer last month.

The men's and women's eights, named Neil and Rosemary after the deceased Liberal Democrat chairman and his sister, took their first trip on the West Float docks in Wallasey, yesterday lunchtime.

They were bequeathed to the Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club - which had a £750,000 boathouse opened by five times Olympic medallist Sir Steve Redgrave in April - by Cllr Thomas before his death at 70.

Last night his sister Rosemary Thomas, 67, told the Daily Post: "Neil ordered the boats before he died, and we had hoped he would live to see them on the water but the cancer caught up with him."

She added: "It was a very emotional day for me. Neil would have been very proud. Rowing was his passion."

Cllr Thomas had started rowing at age 14, and was soon made captain of the rowing team at Wallasey Grammar school.

He had held several posts at the Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club since the mid 1950s, including captain of the rowing squad several times, and was chairman at the time of his death.

The boats, worth around £15,000 each are similar to those used in the Oxford and Cambridge boat races.

Ms Thomas said: "The boats will be used by members of the club. They did have some boats, but these new ones are state of the art, they needed them and so Neil though it would be an appropriate gesture."

Cllr Thomas, a former wire salesman and social worker, was also chairman of Wallasey Liberal Democrats and served on the council from 1973 to 1978. He helped set up the new metropolitan authority of Wirral in 1974, and served on the education and leisure services committees.

He stood as Wallasey's Parliamentary candidate for the Liberals and Liberal Democrats.

He was also president of the Amateur Rowing Association, of which Sir Steve Redgrave is now honorary president, and was a Scout commissioner.

He had worked tirelessly to help fund-raising for the club's new boathouse, which members were determined to restore after it was razed to the ground by arsonists.