Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Skipper jailed over Largo Bay diver death

Guthrie Melville Image copyright Helen Peck
Image caption Solstice skipper Guthrie Melville was found guilty of safety failings

A shellfish boat skipper whose safety failings led to the death of a diver has been jailed for nine months.

Guthrie Meville's boat The Solstice was fishing for razor clams in Largo Bay when diver James Irvine died in March 2011.

Mr Irvine, 42, was found by a police diver lying face up on the seabed with neither of his air supply regulators in his mouth.

Melville was found guilty of safety failings last month.

The 60-year-old was sentenced at Stirling Sheriff Court on Thursday.

The Solstice was thought to have been using an unapproved technique known as electrofishing when Mr Irvine died.

The technique is designed to make the razor fish rise to the surface of the sandy sea bed by trailing unprotected copper electrodes connected to an electric welder.

Image copyright Central Scotland News Agency
Image caption Mr Irvine was found lying on the seabed

An expert said the set-up posed a risk of serious injury, with only a few milliamps being capable of stopping a diver's heart.

The court was told that there was no way of knowing if this was what had happened to Mr Irvine.

Last month prosecutor Louise Beattie said Mr Irvine had been left "truly on his own", eight metres down in the Forth.

The court heard that Mr Irvine, an unemployed kitchen fitter, had been doing his first day's work as a diver.

His only dive training had been a two-week holiday course in Turkey.

He had been recruited by Melville to fish for razor clams, which could be sold on at high prices. A day's catch could fetch Melville more than £2,000.

Melville, from Cardenden in Fife, was found guilty of a string of breaches of diving at work regulations and health and safety legislation, leading to the death of Mr Irvine.

He was also found guilty of putting five other divers at risk through similar failings over a six-year period from April 2005.

Melville had denied the offences and claimed that he had been taking Mr Irvine out for "a pleasure dive".

Sheriff William Gilchrist told him: "The court has to take into account how foreseeable were the risks and how far short of the applicable standards you fell.

"It's quite obvious to me that the risks were clearly foreseeable, and there were effectively no health and safety measures in place, you completely ignored the requirements of health and safety.

"The consequences were extremely, extremely serious."

"I can only conclude that this was a most serious and wilful breach of health and safety regulations, which resulted in a death."

'Lives at risk'

Defence advocate Greg Sanders said since his client had been convicted, he had been subjected to "a litany of abuse" on social media and had been to see his GP about thoughts of taking his own life.

Mr Sanders said: "If it is being suggested he is some sort of greedy businessman, nothing could be further from the truth."

Outside court, Mr Irvine's wife Hazel, 42, said Melville should have been treated like a killer.

She said: "I am disgusted with the sentence. He took my husband's life and he should have gone down for years. He should have been treated like it was culpable homicide, because that was what it was."

His brother Richard Irvine, 39, said: "I hope it sends out a message to other captains who are putting divers' lives at risk."

Mr Irvine's daughter Chloe, 18, said: "He failed to protect five other men, so if this hadn't happened to my dad, sooner or later it would have happened to someone else."

Gary Aitken, the Crown Office's head of heath and safety division, said: "This was a foreseeable and entirely avoidable tragedy which has left family and friends devastated at the loss of a loved one.

"Hopefully, today's outcome will highlight the need for dive contractors and vessel owners to keep the health and safety of their employees and divers to the fore."

Judith Tetlow, HSE principal inspector of diving, said: "This dive resulted in tragic consequences which could have been avoided had Guthrie Melville planned the activity properly using competent and appropriately qualified divers.

"We hope this sentence will send a strong message to the shellfish diving industry that employers have a duty to plan and carry out work properly in order to protect workers."

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