Jury discharged after failing to reach verdicts on Cheeki Rafiki death charges
Stormforce Coaching Limited and director Douglas Innes convicted of failing to operate the yacht safety
Ajury trying a company boss over the deaths of four people on board the Cheeki Rafiki yacht has been discharged after failing to reach verdicts on manslaughter charges, reports Ben Mitchell of the Press Association.
Douglas 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. However, trial judge
Mr Justice Dingemans discharged the jurors at Winchester Crown Court on 14 July after they were unable to reach a decision on the four manslaughter allegations, following four days of deliberation.
Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said they would be seeking a retrial on the four manslaughter charges, and Mr Justice Dingemans released Innes, a married father-of-two, 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.’
Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel as the crew were returning the 12m (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 Romsey, Hampshire, 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 restarted and the yacht found – but without any sign of the four men.
Mr Lickley told the jury that Innes and his company had been in charge of 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 in bad weather during the voyage.
Mr Lickley also claimed during the trial that the yacht was not appropriately coded – licensed – for the voyage, and that 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.’
In a statement on the www.stormforce.biz website, director Douglas Innes announced that Stormforce Coaching had ceased trading. He said: ‘The RYA understandably suspended our recognition the same day. Without accreditations we are unable to trade, and it is with great sadness that I have made the decision for the company to cease trading. We will not be taking any bookings, and we are currently unable to deliver products already booked.
‘We are working with other industry members to try and relocate as many bookings as possible, and are grateful for the goodwill being extended by some other sea schools who are rescuing some of our former clients. I realise there will be many clients concerned about courses or events they have booked: we will try to contact customers as and when we can, but for the moment I apologise for the situation. The phones are no longer manned, so calls will, I am afraid, go unanswered. I am speaking with legal advisors, and will update this webpage in due course.
‘I would like to thank all those who have worked, trained and raced with Stormforce Coaching over the last 16 years. Over 20,000 sailors and power boaters have joined us on training courses, and our race crews have achieved podium results in numerous international regattas. This is in part a great testament to many of the staff that have worked with us. I would particularly like to thank those who have supported us and put their trust in us through the last three years. I am truly sorry this is how it has ended.’
Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel as the crew were returning from Antigua to the UK in May 2014