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Speedboat driver acquitted of manslaughter after crash killed 15-year-old girl

Jess Hardiman

Published 
| Last updated 

Speedboat driver acquitted of manslaughter after crash killed 15-year-old girl

A man has been acquitted of manslaughter after the speedboat he was driving crashed and killed a teenage girl.

Emily Lewis, 15, suffered fatal injuries after the rigid inflatable boat – known as a ‘rib’ - collided with a 4.5m high buoy at 36.6 knots in Southampton Water, a tidal estuary north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight, on 22 August 2020.

A number of other passengers were also seriously injured in the incident.

Michael Lawrence, 55, had been driving the vessel at the time, initially claiming a face mask had blown into his face, blocking his sight.

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Michael Lawrence. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police
Michael Lawrence. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police

However, the former lifeboatman later changed his account, telling the trial he had lost his vision momentarily prior to hitting the buoy.

Lawrence has now been 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, by a jury.

Christine Agnew KC, prosecuting, told the trial at Winchester Crown Court that Lewis’s parents, Simon and Nikki, had decided to take their two daughters for the ‘high thrills’ speedboat ride.

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Emily Lewis. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police
Emily Lewis. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police

The Stormforce 950 rib was recorded to travel at speeds of 47.8 knots, which is in excess of an expired speed limit of 40 knots (46mph), something Agnew said both defendants believed was still in place.

The ride took place in ‘perfect conditions’, with the rib crossing the wake of the Red Falcon ferry five times before heading straight towards the North West Netley buoy, which sat 4.69m above the water line.

The boat hit the buoy after travelling towards it at a speed of 36.6 knots for 14 seconds, in turn throwing two passengers into the water and injuring several others.

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The rib was recorded to travel at speeds of 47.8 knots. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police
The rib was recorded to travel at speeds of 47.8 knots. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police

Lewis suffered severe internal injuries after being crushed against the metal handle in front of her, and was taken ashore by another rib before being taken to hospital via ambulance.

She died after her family made the decision to turn off her life support system, having been told by doctors that she had suffered oxygen starvation to the brain and her injuries were ‘unsurvivable’.

Lawrence, who is from Blackfield in New Forest, was said to be ‘extremely experienced mariner’ in court, with Michael Howley, the owner of Seadogz – the company that operated the boat trip – describing him as ‘Mr Safe and Mr Cautious’.

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Lawrence is a former lifeboatman. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police
Lawrence is a former lifeboatman. Credit: PA/Hampshire Police

As well as serving as an RNLI lifeboatman for 20 years, he held a number of qualifications and was the principal of his own RYA recognised training centre, A2Sea, which held power boat courses.

The jury has not yet reached a verdict relating to Howley, 52, who was charged with not operating the boat safely.

Howley, who is also a former lifeboatman, said he used his experience on rescues to inform his risk assessments that he carried out for his business to ensure the safety of the passengers and staff.

Featured Image Credit: PA/Hampshire Police

Topics: UK News

Jess Hardiman
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