PICTURED: The emotional moment Obama visits best friend of tragic Boston Marathon bombing victim

President Obama has visited the bedside of dozens of Boston Marathon bombing victims, including Karen Rand - who lost her best friend in the horrific blasts.

After attending the interfaith service in Boston on Thursday morning, he visited with hospitalized victims still recovering from the devastating twin blasts.

Miss Rand was one of them. She was waiting near the finish line with her best friend Krystle Campbell to cheer on Karen's boyfriend when the first explosion hit.

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Emotional visit: President Obama visited the bedside of Karen Rand- who lost her best friend Krystle Campbell in the Boston Marathon blasts - on Thursday

High-profile visitor: President Obama speaks with the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he visited with victims of the bombing

Krystle was killed in the blast. Karen will survive.

Krystle, a 29-year-old steakhouse manager who went to the race every year, was the second fatal victim to be identified.

Doctors initially told Krystle's father, William Campbell Jr., that his daughter had survived.

But doctors had mistaken her for Karen, because she was carrying Krystle's identification they were unable to correct the mistake while she was in surgery.

Campbell spent 12 hours believing his daughter was alive and only learned the truth after going into the post-operating room and saw Karen lying there instead.

'We had the doctors come out and tell us everything they did [to save Karen] — and it wasn't our daughter,' Campbell said.

Victim: Krystle Campbell's parents had believed she survived for 12 hours and only learned she had died after going into the hospital room and finding Miss Rand instead

Krystle went to marathon, which she did every year, and was with Rand, cheering on Rand’s boyfriend.

They were struck by the first blast as they waited near the finish line.

William Campbell rushed to the hospital and felt relieved when doctors said they were operating on their daughter's leg at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But when nurses brought him into a post-operating room around 2am and saw Rand instead.

'I said, "That’s not my daughter, that’s Karen! Where’s my daughter?" The doctors were as shocked as we were,' Campbell said.

A Boston detective later showed them a photo of Krystle, who worked as a manager at Jimmy's Steakhouse.

'I almost passed out on the floor,' Mr Campbell said as he was about to view his daughter's body.

Heartbreaking. Mother of Boston bombing victim pays tribute to...

Heartbreaking mix-up: William Campbell was told his daughter, Krystle, (right), survived but later discovered doctors were actually operating on her friend Karen Rand (left)

Heartbroken: Krystle's mother Patty Campbell, center, flanked by her brother, John Reilly, and son, Billy, spoke to reporters outside her home in Medford, Massachusetts on Tuesday and said her daughter had a heart of gold

Mourning: Patty Campbell (top right), mother of Boston Marathon explosion victim Krystle Campbell, told reporters that she couldn't have asked for a better daughter

Tragedy: Krystle Campbell worked as a manager at a steakhouse and was living with her ill grandmother so she could take care of her

'She was the best person you’d ever meet. She helped everybody,' Mr Campbell said. 'I don’t care who you were, she was always there.'

Krystle was the second of the victims killed in the two blasts that came just seconds apart. The first victim identified was eight-year-old Martin Richard.

The third was a Boston University student Lu Lingzi, of China.

There were 183 people injured in the attack. As many as 10 people suffered a lost limb, including two children.

Krystle's mother, Patty Campbell, was overwhelmed with grief when she addressed reporters gathered outside her home on in Medford, Massachusetts on Tuesday.

'She had a heart of gold...she was always smiling and friendly,' Patty Campbell said, fighting back tears as she remembered Krystle.

'I couldn't ask for a better daughter. It's hard to believe this is happening. This doesn't make any sense.'

Krystle's grandmother Lillian Campbell said she went to the marathon every year 'because she loved people'

'She was the best,' the mother said.

'She’s been doing it since she was a little girl,' said her grandmother, Lillian Campbell. 'She didn’t miss a Marathon, watching it at the finish line.

'She enjoyed doing it because she liked people. She’d meet a lot of people over there. She was very friendly, Krystle. She'd talk to anybody.'

Her grandmother added that Krystle had just moved to the town a short time ago.

She was living with her grandmother to care for her during an illness for the past couple of years.

Lillian said that her granddaughter 'was just beautiful.

'She was fun, outgoing person. She was always there to help somebody. All her friends loved her.

'The family is besides themselves now because something happened to her,' the grandmother said.

Martin Richard, 8, from Dorchester, Massachusetts was among the three people killed Tragic: The third victim of the blast was identified as Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi, 23, of China

Blair 'deserves a funeral as big as Thatcher's'

Tony Blair could get a funeral on the scale of that of Margaret Thatcher, the minister in charge of planning her ceremonial send-off has suggested.

Despite claims that Britain is unlikely to see another political funeral on the scale of Baroness Thatcher’s, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said he would have no objection to a similar service when Mr Blair passes away.

Whitehall sources dismissed claims that it had already been decided that future prime ministers would not be afforded ceremonial services of the type watched by tens of thousands in London on Wednesday.

Honour: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that he would have no objection to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, getting a funeral on the same scale as that of Margaret Thatcher, right

Fitting: Mrs Thatcher's ceremonial service, pictured, was watched by tens of thousands in London on Wednesday

Mr Maude, asked about plans for Mr Blair’s demise, and whether he envisaged a similar funeral to that of Lady Thatcher, told BBC Radio 5’s Pienaar’s Politics: ‘I don’t think it’s for me to say actually. I certainly wouldn’t object to that at all.

‘I think that’s very much to be decided between the government of the day and the family. I think the wishes of the family should be paramount and the wishes of the person themselves.’

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A Whitehall source said there had been no detailed discussion about funeral services for any of the surviving former prime ministers - Mr Blair, Sir John Major and Gordon Brown.

At only 70, John Major is now the oldest living former prime minister - the lowest age for the holder of that position at any time since World War Two.

But the source added: ‘Francis Maude has made it clear he would not object to a similar scale of funeral for Tony Blair, who like Margaret Thatcher did win three general elections.

No decision: A Whitehall source said there had been no detailed discussion about funeral services for any of the surviving former prime ministers - Mr Blair, Sir John Major and Gordon Brown.

‘Whether you like him or not, that is quite a big deal. Given the relative youth of our former prime ministers there has not been any detailed planning for this.

'Margaret Thatcher left very detailed instructions and most former prime ministers will have a clear idea of what they want.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg defended the use of taxpayers’ money for Lady Thatcher’s funeral, dismissing the objections of some Labour MPs by pointing out plans had been agreed under the governments of Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

Questioned: Mr Maude was asked about plans for Mr Blair's funeral on BBC Radio 5's Pienaar's Politics

‘There’s nothing new about the government of the day supporting funeral costs for significant public figures and, of course, former prime ministers - that is actually quite an established convention and has happened before,’ he told LBC radio.

‘These plans were not suddenly invented out of thin air, these were worked on over a long period of time, were pretty well established in detail by the previous government, not this coalition Government, and of course with the full consent, co-operation and support of the family.

‘Of course, I can hear that there are people who have differing views but whether you are for or against Margaret Thatcher, everybody recognises she was a very significant political figure and this was a big occasion and that it was done on a cross-party basis.’

Mr Maude said the bill will be ‘much, much less’ than the widely-reported figure of £10 million, but no official estimate of the cost has yet been released.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘We will publish the costs in due course. I think people will understand it can take a little time to draw together the final costings for high-profile and significant events such as yesterday’s funeral.

‘That is what is being done, and we will publish the costs.’

Asked whether the figure would include the full cost of the thousands of police and military personnel who were present at yesterday’s event, the spokesman said: ‘It will take account of the fact that a significant proportion of the personnel involved in the funeral ceremony would already have been on working duty.’

Sir Mark Thatcher said yesterday that his mother would have been ‘profoundly moved and gratified’ by Wednesday’s ceremonial funeral, which was effectively elevated to a state occasion by the presence of the Queen.

Defence: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg defended the use of taxpayers' money for Lady Thatcher's funeral on LBC radio

Police officer in 'drew his gun on a teen McDonald's customer

A Georgia police sergeant has been accused of pulling a gun on a teen customer ahead of him in a McDonald's drive-thru line after becoming enraged over the wait for food.

Detective Sgt Scott Biumi, 48, of the DeKalb County Police Department, was arrested this week and charged with aggravated assault - a felony - after the incident at a McDonald's in Cummings.

Forsyth County Sheriff's spokesman Courtney Spriggs said Biumi pointed a gun at 18-year-old Ryan Mash, who was in front of him on the drive-thru line waiting for his food at about 10:30pm on April 9.

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Threat: Police say that Detective Sgt Scott Biumi pulled a gun on a teen as he waited for his food at a McDonald's drive-thru

Suspect: Scott Biumi has been charged with aggravated assault in the incident

Surveillance footage from inside the restaurant shows Biumi step between the man's car and the drive-thru window and point a gun into the car as he leaned into the driver's side window.

Mr Mash told 11Alive: '[He] was yelling, "Stop holding up the drive thru line… You don’t know who you’re messing with and there’s some crazy people out there."

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'And that’s when he pulled the gun on me and kept on yelling at me for about 30 more seconds. I was scared. I was very scared.'

He added that he didn't know that his assailant was a police officer.

Cop pulls gun on teen over McDonald's queue

Fright: Ryan Mash, 18, a high school senior, said he was 'scared, very scared,' by the incident

Mr Mash, who also works at the McDonald's, claimed he did not do or say anything to set off the irate man, who quickly drove off - without his food.

But not before Mr Mash's friends in the car with him took down the license plate number. A police investigation led to Biumi - a 20-year-veteran of the DeKalb County Police Department.

Spriggs says Biumi was booked into the Forsyth County jail on Wednesday, and released on $22,000 bond..

It is unclear if he has an attorney and Spriggs says a court date is scheduled for May 23.

He has been suspended from the department with pay while the police department conducts an investigation, 11Alive reported.

Scene of the crime: After allegedly pulling his gun on Mr Mash, Biumi sped off from the McDonald's without his food

One small step for Ed Miliband: Labour leader pontificates

For a man who seeks to claim the statesman-like mantle of Margaret Thatcher, Ed Miliband has an odd way of going about it.

The Labour leader triggered comparisons with the much-mocked soapbox of the Iron Lady’s hapless successor John Major yesterday as he stood awkwardly on a pallet, microphone in hand, to address voters outside a shopping centre.

Despite cutting a rather ridiculous figure campaigning in the South Shields by-election – the seat left vacant by his brother David’s move to New York – Mr Miliband is clearly determined to acquire some of Lady Thatcher’s gravitas.

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Boxing clever? Labour leader Ed Milliband used a wooden pallet to address locals in South Shields but was confused with his brother David who quit as the town's MP

Onlookers questioned how useful the box was at making him visible to shoppers as they milled around the town centre

In an audacious speech today, he will suggest he has the same strength of conviction and determination to change Britain as Lady Thatcher did in 1979.

‘Back in the 1970s it was clear the country needed a new way of doing things – a new settlement – and so too today,’ he will say.

‘The old way of running our economy just doesn’t work any more.’

In a separate interview he praises Lady Thatcher’s ‘utter consistency of ideas’, which he suggests he shares.

He adds that his flirtation with ‘wonky’ concepts like predistribution – his complicated plan to tackle inequality – is comparable with the manner in which Lady Thatcher’s policies and convictions were underpinned by ideology.

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‘People sometimes say I’m too interested in ideas,’ he tells the Left-wing website Politics for the Common Good.

‘But getting the ideas right – the intellectual foundations – is absolutely crucial. And they’re particularly crucial in tough times. In tough times you’ve got to have a robust sense of where you stand.’

He suggests David Cameron lacks similar convictions, adding: ‘There’s no sense of consistency.’

But Tory MP Nick de Bois gave the claim short shrift, saying: ‘Ed Miliband’s record as Labour leader is one of no policies, jumping on bandwagons and never making one tough decision. Lady Thatcher would have enjoyed handbagging him to political oblivion.’

Meanwhile an Ipsos-Mori poll suggests voters also believe Mr Miliband has a long way to go before he is seen as a potential prime minister.

Just 24 per cent believe he is ready to be Prime Minister, with 66 per cent saying he is not ready.

Ballot boxes: Mr Miliband's use of a pallet drew immediate comparisons with Sir John Major's soap box tour during the 1992 general election campaign

To the left: The Labour leader points during a speech in which he rejected David Cameron's claim that 'we're all Thatcherites now'

Brother David’s decision to quit British politics for a big money job running a charity in New York triggered the by-election in the North East constituency.

Ed made a visit there today to drum up support for Labour’s candidate Emma Lewell-Buck during a walkabout and apparently impromptu speech in the high street.

He was immeditaly compared with former Tory Prime Minister Sir John Major, who used a wooden box measuring 4ft by 3ft by 1.5ft to speak to voters in the run-up to his surprise election win in 1992.

He said at the time: 'People say that you cannot do it these days. It is fashionable to say, for security and other reasons, that you cannot get up on a soapbox. I think you have to and I am going to do it.'

Aides to Mr Miliband clearly think the idea should be dusted off again.

An aide to Mr Miliband insisted there was nothing unusual about the pallet. 'Politicians use platforms so people can see them when they are speaking,' he said.

South Shields has had a Labour MP since 1935, securing a majority of 18,995 in the 2010 general election.

The campaign push comes as a new poll puts Labour on its lowest level of support for a year.

Ed Miliband campaigns for Labour candidate in South Shields

Alan Beatie (right) was among the people to mistakenly call Ed 'David' during a town centre walkabout'

Spot the difference: Ed (left) was confused with his brother David (right) who resigned as South Shields MP to take up a job with International Rescue Committee in New York

The IpsosMORI survey found 38 per cent of people backing Labour, with the Tories on 29, UKIP 15 and Lib Dems 10.

Two thirds of people disagree that Mr Miliband is ready to be Prime Minister, 'significantly' behind both Tony Blair and David Cameron at the same point before they took the keys to Number 10.

Two and a half years before Mr Blair became Premier, 59 per cent said he was ready for the top job while 43 per cent backed David Cameron.

Tom Mludzinski, deputy head of political research at Ipsos MORI said: 'Labour are at a 12 month low as voters have doubts that Ed Miliband and his party are ready to move into Number 10.

'While he does have two years to change their minds, even his own supporters are not yet fully convinced.'

Speaking in South Shields, Mr Miliband used his address to dispute David Cameron’s claim yesterday that ‘we are all Thatcherites now’ because no one would seek to reverse the Iron Lady’s legacy.

Mr Miliband said: ‘I don't agree with him and we are not all Thatcherites now," he said.

‘He may have been making the point that there are some things that happened in the 1980s that have not been reversed and people are not planning to reverse.

‘But there are lots of things that do need to change, we have learned about deregulation and the problems that creates.

‘There's things about our society that need to change as well so I certainly don't consider myself to be a Thatcherite and there are lots of people in the country who don't consider themselves to be Thatcherite either.’

Not ready to be PM: A new opinion poll reveals Labour at its lowest level for a year, with two thirds of people thinking Mr Miliband is not ready for power

Safe seat: South Shields has had a Labour MP since 1935, securing a majority of 18,995 in the 2010 general election

More than 30 months after becoming Labour leader, beating his brother David in a bitter contest, it seems voters still have trouble telling them apart – even in South Shield.

According to reports he had to correct several people, including local resident Alan Beatie, who mistakenly called him David.

He told locals: ‘It's great to be here in South Shields. Over the last 11 or 12 years since David became an MP, I have really enjoyed my visits here.’ He later had an ice-cream at Minchella's parlour.

Last month David Miliband stunned colleagues by confirming he was moving to New York to take up a lucrative job with aid charity, International Rescue Committee.

He made little attempt to hide the fact that his decision stemmed from the 2010 leadership defeat he suffered at the hands of younger brother Ed.

He said it would be better for him to be ‘3,000 miles from the front bench’, adding: ‘I didn’t want the soap opera to take over the real substance of what needs to be done.’

Bungling coach driver takes school children on 80 mile diversion

A coachload of schoolchildren was taken 80 miles in the wrong direction in the middle of the night after a driver misspelt their destination by just one letter.

The driver accidentally typed Towyn into his satellite navigation system, then promptly drove to the village near the seaside resort of Rhyl in north Wales.

Unfortunately, his sleepy passengers had hoped to wake up in Tywyn, near Cardigan Bay in
west Wales.

The Llew Jones International coach, like the one pictured above, was returning from Paris

The blunder occurred when the coach swapped drivers at Shrewsbury towards the end of a 13-hour journey following a trip to Paris.

Parents of the 37 pupils aged 11 to 14, from Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn, were left waiting to collect their children for an extra two hours on Tuesday morning.

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Sue Williams, whose daughter Sian was on the coach, said: ‘The teachers and the kids all fell asleep on the bus and when they woke up they realised they were going a different way to what they normally know.’

The teachers and children were taken to Towyn in north Wales instead of Tywyn which is 77 miles away

Mrs Williams added: ‘They ended up in Towyn, and then took an extra hour and a half to get back home, to the correct town.

‘I'm not happy at all by what happened, especially because Sian suffers from travel sickness and so do a few other kids.’

The driver took the pupils and teachers to Towyn, Conwy, before delivering them to Tywyn, Gwynedd, above

Cllr Louise Hughes, whose daughter was also on the trip with 36 other pupils, said: ‘I was very annoyed by what happened. I am glad they all got back safely.

‘Delivery drivers make the same mistake and people ring, saying, “We can’t find you, we’re in Towyn”. It happens all the time.’

‘It really was a ridiculous mistake to make. I don't understand how the driver could have got it so wrong, there is a 77-mile difference between both towns, they are in different counties and have a completely different spelling.’

The group of 37 pupils spent five days in Paris, pictured, on the school trip (file picture)

A spokesman for Llew Jones International said: ‘We have spoken to the driver of the coach and he was clearly instructed to go to Tywyn in Meirionnydd.

‘He had then inputted the wrong town into his sat nav and took the passengers to Towyn, near Rhyl.

‘The driver is not from the area, and the situation will now be dealt with in a disciplinary hearing.‘We apologise for any inconvenience this has have caused.’

Obama administration has SLASHED budget for domestic bombing prevention

Barack Obama's administration has cut the budget nearly in half for preventing domestic bombings, MailOnline can reveal.

Under President George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security had $20 million allocated for preventing the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by terrorists working inside the United States. The current White House has cut that funding down to $11 million.

That assessment comes from Robert Liscouski, a former Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 that killed three Americans and injured at least 173 others.

He told MailOnline that the Obama-era DHS is, on the whole, about as well-positioned as it was during the Bush administration to handle the aftermath of the April 15 bombings in Boston, 'but the Obama administration has continued to cut the budget for offices such as the Office for Bombing Prevention from $20 million started under Bush, to $11 million today.'

Robert Liscouski was the first Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, and was responsible for creating the Office of Infrastructure Protection Directorate. That sub-agency's job included protecting U.S. sites from improvised explosives, and it later spun off the Office for Bombing Prevention

President Obama received an updated briefing on the Boston Marathon explosions during an April 16 meeting. OBP was represented by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, at far left

'Comparatively,' he added, 'the Defense Department's Joint IED Defeat Organization had a budget of $1 billion per year focused on preventing IEDs in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.'

'Clearly more money needs to be focused on countering domestic IEDs,' Liscouski concluded.

He is now a partner at Edge 360, a security and intelligence consultancy.

The Office for Bombing Prevention (OBP) was created in 2003 when the Department of Homeland Security was founded. Its original name was the WMD/Bombing Prevention Unit, and it was part of the department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate.

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The sub-agency was renamed the Office for Bombing Prevention in 2006, according to a 2009 DHS briefing booklet obtained by MailOnline and marked 'FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY.'

Today the OBP describes its mission as 'enhanc[ing] the Nation’s ability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and mitigate the terrorist use of explosives against critical infrastructure, the private sector, and Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial entities.'

Its website says it works to 'coordinate national and intergovernmental bombing prevention efforts' and 'enhance counter-IED capabilities.'

In February, President Obama issued a National Policy for Countering Improvised Explosives that now governs OBP. 'We must not become complacent,' he wrote

Patrick Starke, an accomplished security expert, runs the Office for Bombing Prevention. He has managed security operations in the Navy, and was also an explosive ordnance disposal officer

But little is known about what role OBP actually plays in attempting to prevent bombings at public events that could be considered target-rich environments

Patrick Starke has headed the office since August 2012. He has lengthy security management experience with a defense contractor, in the Navy, and as an explosive ordnance disposal officer.

On February 26 the Obama White House issued a lengthy National Policy for Countering Improvised Explosive Devices. Obama wrote in an introduction to that document that 'we have no greater responsibility than providing for the safety and security for [sic] our citizens, allies, and partners ... The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) threatens these interests by killing, injuring, and intimidating citizens and political leaders around the world.'

'We must not become complacent,' he wrote.

The policy document included statements about 'enhancing our focus on protecting American lives' and 'screening, detecting, and protecting our people, facilities, transportation systems, [and] critical infrastructure.'

Obama's effort followed President George W. Bush's 2007 Homeland Security Presidential Directive-19, which established a national policy on 'the prevention and detection of, protection against, and response to terrorist use of explosives (and IEDs) in the United States.'

President George W. Bush (L) created the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 as part of a broad response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge (R) was the cabinet-level agency's first secretary

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest didn't respond to a question about whether there were any failures in the president's National Policy for Countering Improvised Explosive Devices, or whether it was too soon to judge the February 2013 policy's effectiveness.

He referred MailOnline's questions about the president's February policy statement to DHS, where public affairs officer Brian Hyer didn't immediately provide answers to questions.

Earnest also didn't respond to a question about how much money Obama's current budget proposal, delivered to Congress on April 10, allocates for domestic prevention of terrorist bombing attacks on American soil.

But the February White House policy document acknowledged that 'the threat from IED use is likely to remain high in the coming decade and will continue to evolve in response to our abilities to counter them.'

'A whole-of-government approach ... will best position the United States to discover plots to use IEDs in the United States, or against U.S. persons abroad, before those threats become imminent.

The Boston-area Joint Terrorism Task Force did not respond to questions about whether an OBP representative was an active member.

Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano is responsible for overseeing the federal government's efforts to prevent bombings like the ones that claimed three lives on April 15. Her press office did not answer questions about why the agency had cut funding for preventing improvised explosive devices

Did this magical little crystal help the Vikings rape and pillage across the world?

Deep in the waters off Alderney, third largest of the Channel Islands, there lies the wreck of an Elizabethan warship.

Sunk there in 1592, it has surrendered many treasures to divers over the years. They include the armour, muskets and cannon proudly displayed in Alderney's museum.

But it is an almost forgotten object, long hidden away in the museum's storeroom, that may prove the most momentous find of all.

Magical crystal: New research suggests this is a fabled Viking sunstone, which has long been the stuff of legend

Salvaged from the depths in 2002, it looks like a bar of soap and is just as opaque, but only because its surface has been scratched and dulled by sand and seawater over hundreds of years.

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In its time, it was a gleaming crystal. And in what sounds like something out of a Harry Potter novel, new research suggests that it may be an example of a fabled Viking navigational aid known as a sunstone.

Said to have been able to pinpoint the location of the sun even when cloud or fog made it invisible in the skies above, sunstones were once thought to be the stuff of legend.

Mystery: Historians have long been puzzled by how the Vikings' nautical prowess in an age before the magnetic compass

The news that the Alderney crystal could be the world's first known specimen is likely to cause almost as big a stir as might the capture of a leprechaun, or the discovery of King Arthur's sword.

Yet the claim, about to be published in the Proceedings Of The Royal Society, a journal not known for its frivolity, is being made by respected physicists at the University of Rennes in Brittany.

They came across the Alderney crystal as they were puzzling over one of the great maritime mysteries: how to explain the nautical prowess of the Vikings in an age long before the invention of reliable magnetic compasses.

These seafaring warriors raped and pillaged their way from Scandinavia to reach not just British shores but also those of North America, where they are believed to have set up colonies as early as the 10th century.

This was all the more impressive given the speeds at which they sailed. With figureheads of fierce creatures to intimidate the spirits of the lands they invaded, their longboats were formidable vessels, holding up to 120 men and crashing through the waves at up to 15 knots — almost 20 miles per hour.

An error of just a few degrees could take them rapidly off course, and we know that they relied in part on observation of wildlife to tell them where they were.

If they saw gannets and guillemots, for example, this told them they were farther out to sea, while sightings of puffins indicated that they were approaching land.

It has even been said that a starving raven was kept aboard each vessel in a wooden box. If the crew were really lost, they released the unfortunate bird, knowing that its 'sat-rav' would lead it straight towards the nearest land in search of food.

Under the sea: The 'sunstone' was found among a shipwreck off the coast of Alderney, Channel Islands

But the most vital information of all was knowing where they were in relation to the sun. Historians have long wondered how they navigated on the days when weather conditions or the time of the day meant that the sun was out of sight.

However, an Icelandic legend about the travels of the Norwegian king Olaf in the 11th century refers to sunstones.

Warriors: The seafaring Vikings raped and pillaged their way from Scandinavia to reach not just British shores but also those of North America

One winter's day, Olaf met a farmer's son named Sigurour, who boasted that he could sense the position of the sun even in a snowy sky.

The story describes how the assembled company looked out of the window but 'could nowhere see a clear sky'. After asking Sigurour to tell him where the sun was, the king ordered his minions to fetch 'the solar stone' to test the young man's claims.

'He held it up and saw where light radiated from the stone and thus directly verified Sigurour's prediction.'

Sunstones are also listed in the inventories of several churches and one monastery in 14th-century Iceland. Yet none has been found and no one could explain how they might have worked.

That was until scientists began to investigate a crystal called Icelandic spar, which would have been quite common in the Vikings' homelands.

The crystal has a peculiar molecular structure, which means that light passing through it is split into two. Rotating the crystal eventually exposes the point where the two beams converge, and it is this angle that indicates the direction of the sun.

In 2007, an international study headed by Hungarian scientists showed that Icelandic spar could be used to detect the sun's position in exactly this way, even at twilight or in overcast conditions. In 2011, the Rennes researchers went further and demonstrated that the crystal could detect the sun's position to within one degree.

The problem was that there were no surviving examples of anything resembling a sunstone in the form apparently used by ancient sailors. Or so the scientists thought. They were unaware of the finds off Alderney, where the wreck was discovered in 1977 after a rusting Tudor musket became entangled in nets cast by a lobster fisherman.

Sail away: Vikings navigated on days when the weather or time of the day meant the sun was out of sight

The name of the vessel has never been established but historical documents describe just such a ship sinking en route to France, after being dispatched to dissuade the Spanish from renewing their sea-battle against the English following the defeat of the Armada in 1588.

In 2002, a dive to the wreck revealed, among many artefacts, the mysterious lump of crystal that is now the focus of international scrutiny. As nobody knew quite what it was, it was put in a safe place and little notice was taken of it until Professor Albert Le Floch, head of the research team, spotted a reference to it on the website run by volunteers of the Alderney Maritime Trust.

Navigation: Vikings also used starving ravens to guide them to land if they were really lost

He was further intrigued to discover that, in 2006, a set of brass dividers used for map-reading were also found in the wreck, just 3ft from where the crystal had been found. This encouraged the idea that it had been part of the navigational equipment.

Following a visit by Professor Le Floch to the island last year, a small specimen was taken from the rock. And, as the research paper is about to reveal, it has been confirmed as Icelandic spar — which, although common around Alderney, has never been found in blocks like this one, about the size and shape of a cigarette packet. This implies it was indeed with the stricken ship when it went down.

In turn, that raises the question of why the vessel's doomed sailors would have been using such a primitive device when trustworthy compasses had already been invented. Perhaps they were aware, even then, that magnetic compass readings can be affected by the presence of iron objects near by — for example, the huge cast-iron cannons found aboard the ship.

'A second, independent means of verifying the ship's course would have been comforting to these navigators,' says Mike Harrisson, director of the Alderney Maritime Trust.

'Perhaps the Alderney crystal had been handed down from father to son, or master mariner to master mariner, over the ages.'

Despite the worldwide headlines, he and the other residents of Alderney — population 2,111 — are not letting their crystal's sudden stardom turn their heads.

'There is no incontrovertible proof that this is a sunstone and we don't want to overstate the case,' Mr Harrisson says.

Looking back: Those who arrive in Alderney on boat might want to take a moment to gaze out to the horizon and imagine themselves lost on the empty expanses of ocean beyond

But he admits there are plans for a rejigging of exhibits at the museum in the island's capital, St Anne.

Currently languishing in a wooden box with only a purple velvet lining to dignify it as anything other than a nondescript piece of rock, the Alderney crystal may soon be retrieved from the storeroom and honoured with its own display cabinet. This, it is hoped, will attract many more visitors to the island.

Those who arrive by boat might want to take a moment to gaze out to the horizon and imagine themselves lost on the empty expanses of ocean beyond.

Today, they could rely on the latest technology to get them back to dry land. How different from the Vikings, those marauding mariners who found their way across the high seas with the help of Mother Nature alone — and perhaps those wondrous crystals known as sunstones.