Excavation work at a site in Ardrossan Cemetery, thought to be a mass grave of bodies from the HMS Dasher disaster, has ended in disappointment.

The archaeology team, led by John Atkinson, hoped to find evidence of a grave site but instead found undisturbed virgin soil.

HMS Dasher blew up off Arran in March 1943, killing 379 people, but only 23 bodies are in marked graves. The others have never been accounted for.

Local writer John Steele, who believed the site could have contained the bodies of some of the victims, said it was sad for the victims' surviving families nothing had been found.

He said: "I just feel sorry for all the victims' families because they are all in their 70s and this might be their last chance to find them.

"After 20 years I definitely will continue the search, we know so many bereaved families and they are all crying out for help but no one at the top of the Ministry of Defence seems to be listening."

Mr Steele said there was a fatal flaw in the design of the American-built HMS Dasher but the British authorities did not want it made public for fear of upsetting their wartime ally. Mr Steele added he believed there could still be a grave site at Ardrossan Cemetery as well as a second site, possibly in a field within a two-mile radius of Ardrossan.

Speaking about the lack of official information about HMS Dasher's victims' graves, Mr Steele added: "It's wrong that this is the way that the war dead are being treated – it is absolutely appalling."