Skipper and firm owner avoid jail over death of girl, 15, in speedboat crash

A speedboat pilot and the boat firm owner have avoided jail after a high-speed crash with a buoy killed a teenage passenger.

Emily Lewis, 15, suffered fatal injuries after the Seadogz rigid inflatable boat (rib) smashed into a navigation buoy in Southampton Water on 22 August 2020.

A number of other passengers were seriously injured.

‘Experienced’ speedboat skipper Michael Lawrence had taken the ‘high-thrill’ ride to an extreme as he careened along the water at 36.6 knots (41mph).

He was convicted for driving the vessel without maintaining a proper lookout or going at a safer speed before the vessel collided with the 4.5-metre-high buoy.

After a trial at Winchester Crown Court, Lawrence was cleared of manslaughter.

Today, he and Michael Howley, who owned the now-defunct boat trip operator Seadogz, were given 18-month suspended sentences.

Howley was previously not found guilty by a majority verdict for failing to operate the craft safely.

The court previously heard how Emily’s parents, Simon and Nicola, had taken their daughters Emily and Amy, 18, for the speedboat ride.

After the two teens boarded the Stormforce 950 rib during ‘perfect conditions’, Lawrence drove the boat across the wake of the Red Falcon ferry five times.

The rib then barreled towards the North West Netley buoy, which measures 4.69m above the water line and weighs five tonnes, for 14 seconds.

The rib slammed into it, throwing two riders into the water and injuring several others at 10.11am.

Emily was crushed against the metal handrail in front of her, suffering what doctors described as ‘unsurvivable’ injuries.

Christine Agnew KC, prosecuting, said: ‘This was to be a high-thrills ride. Tragically it was both a high-thrills and ultimately an extremely dangerous ride, which ended with the death of Emily.

‘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.’

Emily died after her family decided to switch off her life support system as she had suffered oxygen starvation to the brain.

Lawrence initially chalked up the incident to his Covid face mask being blown up by the wind, covering his eyes.

But the former lifeboat crew member then ‘changed his story’, the jury was told, to him blacking out.

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‘Perhaps he began to appreciate that his explanation about the mask did not provide a credible explanation for why he drove straight at the buoy for as long as he did, at least 10 seconds,’ Agnew said.

She added: ‘Amy Lewis broke her arm in the collision and passed out. When she regained consciousness, she saw the handlebar in front of Emily had gone straight into her stomach.

‘Emily told her family she was scared and could not breathe as her lips turned blue, but instead of helping her Lawrence simply paced up and down the boat ‘not appearing to assist anyone and stepping over those in his way.’

The prosecutor said Howley faced a lesser charge for failing to have policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of the passengers.

James Newton-Price KC, representing Howley, also a former lifeboatman, said that his client ‘did what he reasonably could’ to ensure passenger safety.

Looking directly at Lawrence, Emily’s mother, Nicola, wiped back tears as she described her daughter as a ‘caring young girl with a wicked sense of humour’.

‘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,’ she said.

‘To me, you are just a coward only thinking about yourself. You show no remorse.’

‘All I can see is Emily’s blue lips and her saying to me that she cannot breathe,’ Nicola added.

‘I couldn’t help her and this haunts me daily. I cannot get the image out of my head.

‘That is why I survive and not live because of what you did to me and my family on that day.’

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