Mother of girl killed in speedboat crash brands skipper ‘coward’ as he’s spared jail
The tearful mother of a 15-year-old girl killed in a speedboat crash has branded the skipper a “coward”, as he and the company owner avoided being sent to prison.
Michael Lawrence, 55, who was driving the boat, was found not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence, but guilty of failing to maintain a proper lookout and failing to proceed at a safe speed. Michael Howley, 52, the owner of the now defunct Seadogz which ran the boat trips, was convicted of not operating the boat safely.
They were both sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Friday to 18 weeks in custody suspended for two years, ordered to complete 125 hours of community service and pay £1,000 of court costs.
Reading her victim impact statement to the court, Emily’s mother Nicola, wiping back tears, said looking at Lawrence: “It is two and a half years and you have kept us in this hell, you could have taken responsibility for what happened that day but you have chosen not to. To me, you are just a coward only thinking about yourself. You show no remorse.”
She described Emily as a “fun, quiet, caring young girl with a wicked sense of humour”, adding: “We loved her so much but now our hearts are empty.”
“I go back to that day, all I can see is Emily’s blue lips and her saying to me that she cannot breathe. I was not able to hold her and comfort her because of my other injuries. It wasn’t until I was in the rescue boat that I scrambled over to where she was so that she knew that I was there with her.
“The paramedics took Emily and that is the last time I saw her until she was in a hospital bed. I remember screaming, hearing Amy scream and this is when I knew we were going to have to turn the life support machine off.
Emily’s father, Simon, added: “The death of my amazing, wonderful daughter Emily has truly broken me. There is no day, hour or minute that I do not think about her. I miss her so much that some days that pain is physical. I want and need her back in my life, yet I know that this is not possible.”
Criticising Lawrence for being “unprofessional, terse and dismissive” in the moments after the crash, Mr Lewis added: “I find it very disappointing that you were not strong enough to admit you made a mistake.”
Emily died during the “adrenaline-fuelled” speedboat ride when the skipper “failed to pay attention” and drove straight at a metal buoy for 14 seconds before hitting it, a court previously heard.
The teenager suffered “unsurvivable” injuries when the rigid inflatable boat (Rib) collided with the 4.5m high buoy at 36.8 knots in Southampton Water at 10.11am on August 22, 2020. A number of other passengers were seriously injured.
Christine Agnew KC, prosecuting, previously told Winchester Crown Court that Emily’s parents had decided to take their daughters, Emily and 18-year-old Amy, for the speedboat ride.
“This was to be a high-thrills ride,” she said. “Tragically it was both a high-thrills and ultimately an extremely dangerous ride, which ended with the death of Emily, the 15-year-old.
“She died from internal injuries she sustained by being crushed against the metal handle immediately in front of her, when the boat crashed head on into a metal buoy which Michael Lawrence appears not to have seen.
“Perhaps because he wasn’t paying attention and was distracted, or because he was planning to take a sharp turn around it, and because he wasn’t paying close enough attention, he miscalculated the turn.
“In either event, the prosecution say that his actions that day fell far below those of a competent skipper.”
“Her family took the unspeakably difficult decision to turn off Emily’s life support system and she died,” Ms Agnew added.
She said Amy Lewis broke her arm in the collision and passed out, Mrs Lewis suffered a fractured right wrist, and her husband suffered a strained right knee and wrist and a chest injury.
Ms Agnew said that Howley faced a lesser charge of failing to ensure the safe operation of the Rib by not having policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of the passengers.
The prosecutor said that Lawrence had provided a safety briefing ahead of the ride but said passengers felt it was more concerned with Covid restrictions than what to do in the circumstances of an accident.
Karim Khalil KC, representing Lawrence, a former RNLI lifeboatman, previously told the jury: “He did, in so far as he was able, keep a proper lookout and he did not travel at an improper speed.”
He added that Lawrence had been in shock and suffering PTSD after the accident, and added: “He is a genuinely decent man who has been doing his best to explain and understand how this happened.”
James Newton-Price KC, representing Howley, also a former lifeboatman, said that his client “did what he reasonably could” to ensure the safety of those using his two Ribs.
He said: “The two Ribs were made by high quality manufacturers, he invested a lot of money in them, they were regularly serviced and well-maintained.
“He also ensured the people he employed, many of them lifeboat crew, were good seamen, he paid for and employed trustworthy and reliable skippers.”
After the verdict against Howley was delivered, the court was told by prosecution solicitor David Richards KC that Seadogz had received three complaints from injured passengers in 10 years – but none of those injuries resulted in criminal charges.
The judge, Mr Justice Butcher said: “It is still unknown exactly why you, Michael Lawrence, drove the Rib as you did.
“I am sure the accident was not caused by your deliberately driving at the buoy or aiming to go close and swerve away, instead what happened must have been the result of inattention or distraction.”
Explaining his decision not to send Lawrence to prison, the judge said: “There is a real prospect of rehabilitation, Mr Lawrence can be said to have rehabilitated himself by abandoning maritime practices.”