Owner of fishing boat on which two crewmen died jailed

A picture from the scene when the tragedy occurred.
A picture from the scene when the tragedy occurred.

The owner of a fishing boat on which two crewmen died from carbon monoxide poisoning while it was berthed in Whitby has been jailed for 15 months.

After hearing evidence without a jury to decide an issue in the case, Judge Tom Bayliss QC ruled today at Leeds Crown Court that Timothy Bowman-Davies was aware a gas cooker on board the Eshcol was being used for heating on occasions.

Mark Arries, 26, and Edward Ide, 21, from Northumberland died on the boat when an inquest heard they had kept the grill on to keep them warm while moored overnight in Whitby harbour in January 2014.

Bowman-Davies, 44, from Pembrokeshire pleaded guilty to two charges, failing to secure that the ship was operated in a safe manner and secondly failing to ensure that work equipment was maintained in an efficient state, working order and good repair but claimed he was not aware of the cooker being used for heating.

Judge Bayliss said the defendant’s son Jake, then 15, who discovered the bodies with a skipper from one of his father’s other two boats which had been scallop fishing out of Whitby, had made two statements to the police indicating his father did know but later claimed in evidence he had not said that.

The judge said having considered evidence in the case he thought the teenager was now trying to protect his father. “I am quite sure what Jake said to the police was the truth, my conclusion is the defendant did know that the gas cooker was being used.”

He said a risk assessment should therefore have been done on the issue and a prohibition on the use of the cooker for heating.

“I am prepared to accept this was not a flagrant breach or disregard of the law but it comes close.”

As part of a risk assessment the cooker should have been checked by a gas safety qualified person and that would have revealed that it was emitting carbon monoxide.

That person would also have recommended the installation of a carbon monoxide detector. Judge Bayliss said at that time there appeared to be general ignorance among those working on the boats that should be done when gas appliances were in use and Bowman-Davies was not the only person unaware of the hidden dangers.

But having become aware of the use of the cooker as a heater even over short periods, he had done nothing to stop it “turning a blind eye”.

“He did not ensure the Eshcol operated in a safe manner nor that his employees were safe.”

He said only a prison sentence was appropriate. “Two men have died, those who employ others and whose actions create risk of harm must take the consequences when harm results such as here.”

He expressed his sympathies to the families of the two men, who left behind three young children.

In evidence Bowman-Davies told the court Mr Arris and his crew had only joined the Eshcol on January 8 and he only met them for the first time hours before their deaths and was unaware anybody had used the cooker for heating because there was a fan heater on board. “Nobody told me anything, if I had been told about it I would have done something.”

He said he was not aware of the risks of carbon monoxide on boats and did not know he should have had the gas cooker serviced.

The defendant said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) had inspected the £100,000 boat 11 weeks before the "tragic accident" and was "happy" with its condition so he relied on his local MCA inspector to advise him of any safety concerns.

"I'm a fisherman. Unless I'm helped along a little bit I don't know what to do. I rely on my local inspector for advice."

Bowman-Davies said he believed that other boat owners had a similar lack of awareness about the risk of carbon monoxide and the guidelines surrounding it.

He agreed under cross-examination by James Leonard prosecuting that it was his responsibility as master of this vessel to look at appropriate guidance documents.

"Your lack of awareness is a very serious failing on your part as the owner of the vessel do you agree,” asked Mr Leonard.

Bowman-Davies replied: “yes.” He told the judge he was "devastated" about the deaths of the two men saying: "I don't blame anybody. It's something that happened that shouldn't have happened, a tragic accident."

Tracey Arris said in a victim impact statement read in court that part of her died when she heard of the death of her son Mark. A carbon monoxide monitor was not a legal requirement on the ship. “It breaks my heart that I lost my boy when something so small like a monitor could have saved his life.”

Her son’s partner Kim Grieve had the double tragedy of losing one of their newly born twins five months earlier, only to lose Mark while she was still grieving from that. She said: “My soul mate has gone.”

Sarah Tait, the fiancée of Mr Ide said he was the “life and soul of the party” who loved fishing. She said his young son was finding it hard to understand. “It breaks my heart that one day he will actually ask what happened to daddy.”