A jury trying a company boss over the deaths of four people on board the Cheeki Rafiki yacht was discharged after failing to reach verdicts on manslaughter charges, reports Ben Mitchell, of the Press Association.
Douglas Innes was convicted of failing to ensure the safety of the vessel.
But trial judge Mr Justice Dingemans discharged the jurors at Winchester Crown Court on Friday, 14 July, after they were unable to reach a decision on the four manslaughter allegations, following four days of deliberation.
Innes, 42, of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton, and his company, Stormforce Coaching Limited, were convicted of failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner, contrary to Section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act.
Innes, a married father-of-two, showed no emotion as the verdicts were announced.
Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said they would be seeking a retrial on the four manslaughter charges and Mr Justice Dingemans released Innes on unconditional bail until a future hearing on a date to be set.
Thanking the jury, which deliberated for 21 hours, Mr Dingemans said: ‘I will discharge you from considering any more the verdicts in this case.
‘May I thank-you very much for the sacrifices you have made, your prompt attendance and the diligence and care you have taken when considering this matter.’
The Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel as the crew were returning the 40ft yacht from Antigua to the UK in May 2014 when it got into trouble more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia.
The four crew members were skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, James Male, 22, from Southampton, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, both from Somerset.
The US Coastguard was criticised for calling off its search after two days but after protests from family and friends and intervention by the British government, the search was re-started and the boat found – but without any sign of the four men.
Mr Lickley told the jury Innes and his company had been in charge of the Cheeki Rafiki, named after a character in the Lion King, for three years.
He said the prosecution case was that the yacht, which had grounded on three occasions in the past three years, had an undetected fault.
He claimed bolts holding the three-tonne keel to the hull failed, causing it to fall off during the bad weather during the voyage.
Mr Lickley also claimed during the trial that the yacht was not appropriately coded – licensed – for the voyage and Innes had chosen an “unsafe” northern route.
Innes told the court any fault with the keel had lain hidden and would not necessarily have been found by an inspector, and that he believed the yacht had not required the coding because he did not consider the journey to be a commercial voyage.
He also denied he had cut costs or tried to save time by sending the yacht back to the UK via the northern route.
Speaking outside court on behalf of the families, Kay Coombes, sister of Steve Warren, said: ‘This has been a long three years and a long trial.
‘We’re grateful for all the support that we have received.
‘Based on the evidence we’ve heard, we are in agreement with the guilty verdict on the Section 100 charges.
‘We’re sure you’ll appreciate that we can’t comment further because of the retrial.
‘We would like to thank the MCA, the CPS and all those within the court structure who’ve made this process more bearable.’
Cressida Goslin, widow of Paul Goslin, said of the trial: ‘It has brought us much closer together, we are like a family.’
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RYA statement on Stormforce Coaching trial verdict
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) acknowledges the initial findings of this complex and difficult case. Our thoughts remain with the families, friends and colleagues of Andrew Bridge, Paul Goslin, James Male, and Steve Warren.
The jury found Stormforce Coaching Ltd, operators of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, guilty by majority verdict of breaching Section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act having failed to take all reasonable steps to secure that the yacht was operated in a safe manner.
Whilst Cheeki Rafiki’s tragic passage was not part of RYA training activity, the delivery was arranged by an RYA recognised training centre.
In light of the court’s findings, the RYA today suspended recognition of Stormforce Coaching as an RYA Training Centre pending referral of the matter to the Training Committee in line with normal procedure. Subsequently, Stormforce Coaching management has contacted the RYA and surrendered its RYA training recognition voluntarily.
Douglas Innes has also been found guilty of breaching Section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act. Accordingly, the RYA today suspended all relevant Instructor qualifications held by Innes with immediate effect, pending referral to the RYA Tribunal.
Anyone with queries and concerns arising from this statement should contact askRYA@rya.org.uk
The RYA continues to work constantly to ensure that the highest standards are maintained at all RYA recognised training centres.