Speedboat captain avoids jail after death of girl, 15, in front of her family

17 March 2023, 16:45

Emily Smith, 15, died of wounds to her chest after hitting a metal buoy
Emily Smith, 15, died of wounds to her chest after hitting a metal buoy. Picture: Alamy

By Adam Solomons

The captain of a speedboat whose "inattention" caused the death of a 15-year-old girl has avoided prison time.

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Emily Smith was killed when the rigid inflatable boat (Rib) crashed into a metal buoy at 36.6 knots in Southampton Water in August 2020.

Skipper Michael Lawrence, 55, was found guilty of failing to maintain a proper lookout and failing to proceed at a safe speed.

He was found not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Seadogz boat trip company owner Michael Howley was convicted of not operating the boat safely.

They were both sentenced to 18 weeks in custody suspended for two years and ordered to complete 125 hours of community service.

They must also pay £1,000 of court costs.

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Emily's parents Simon and Nicola Smith are pictured outside Winchester Crown Court today
Emily's parents Simon and Nicola Smith are pictured outside Winchester Crown Court today. Picture: Alamy

Judge Mr Justice Butcher told Winchester Crown Court today: “It is still unknown exactly why you, Michael Lawrence, drove the Rib as you did.

“I am sure the accident was not caused by your deliberately driving at the buoy or aiming to go close and swerve away, instead what happened must have been the result of inattention or distraction.”

Explaining his decision not to send Lawrence to prison, the judge said: “There is a real prospect of rehabilitation, Mr Lawrence can be said to have rehabilitated himself by abandoning maritime practices.”

Michael Lawrence is pictured with his face covered at a prior court appearance
Michael Lawrence is pictured with his face covered at a prior court appearance. Picture: Alamy

The court heard that the Rib sped straight at the buoy at a speed of 36.6 knots for 14 seconds before hitting it, throwing two passengers into the water and injuring several others.

Emily suffered fatal injuries after being crushed against a metal boat handle.

She was taken ashore by another Rib and rushed to hospital.

She died after her family took the decision to turn off her life support system after being told by doctors that she had suffered oxygen starvation to the brain and her injuries were “unsurvivable”.

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