Emily Lewis: Two former lifeboatmen avoid jail over speedboat death of 15-year-old on Southampton Water

Emily Lewis: Two former lifeboatmen avoid jail over speedboat death of 15-year-old on Southampton Water

Two former lifeboatmen have avoided jail sentences over a speedboat crash which killed a teenage passenger.

Emily Lewis, 15, suffered fatal injuries after the rigid inflatable boat (rib) collided with a 4.5m high buoy at 36.6 knots on Southampton Water on 22 August 2020.

A number of other passengers were also seriously injured.

Speedboat skipper Michael Lawrence and company owner Michael Howley were handed 18-week prison sentences suspended for two years at Winchester Crown Court in connection with the death.

Lawrence, 55, who was driving the boat, was previously 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.

While Howley, 52, the owner of Seadogz, the company which ran the boat trip, was convicted by majority verdict of not operating the craft safely.

At the trial, Christine Agnew KC, prosecuting, told how Emily’s parents, Simon and Nikki, had made the decision to take her and sister Amy, 18, for a “high thrills” speedboat ride.

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

The ride, which was said to have taken place in “perfect conditions”, saw the Stormforce 950 rib cross the wake of a Red Falcon ferry five times, before heading straight towards the North West Netley buoy, which measures 4.69m above the water line.

The boat was travelling towards it for 14 seconds at a speed of 38.6 knots (44mph), before hitting it and throwing passengers into the water and injuring others.

CCTV showed the moment before the speedboat hit the buoy

Emily suffered from internal injuries from being crushed up against the metal handle in front of her.

She was taken ashore by another boat, and then transported to hospital, where she later died.

Her parents decided to turn off her life support after being told by medical staff she had suffered from oxygen starvation to the brain and her injuries were “unsurvivable”.

Ms Agnew said Lawrence, of Blackfield, New Forest, initially said a face mask blowing into his face had blocked his view, but later changed his account.

Lawrence told the court he had lost his vision briefly, prior to hitting the buoy.

The jury was told a condition such as a blood clot in an artery in his eye was unlikely to have caused the loss of vision, due to it being unlikely to have impacted both eyes at once.

He was said to be an “extremely experienced mariner”, and his co-defendant called him “Mr Safe and Mr Cautious”.

Lawrence had served as an RNLI lifeboatman for two decades, and held a number of qualifications, as well as being the principal of his own RYA-recognised training centre, A2Sea, which held powerboat courses.

Howley, of Hordle, New Forest, is also a former lifeboatman and said he used his past experiences from rescues to inform him of risk assessments which he carried out for the business on a daily basis, to ensure the safety of the passengers and staff.