Tugboat skipper loses appeal in drowning case

Beachy Head
Beachy Head

A tugboat skipper responsible for a “catalogue of disasters” which led to the fatal drowning of a friend and crewman off the coast of Eastbourne has failed to persuade top judges he should have been spared jail.

Steven Trice, 55, drowned during a desperate operation to reattach a towline between the tugboat Endurance and the motor cruiser she was towing in February 2013.

Martin Richley – skipper of the Endurance – made the disastrous decision to direct the towrope’s reattachment despite the strong winds and heavy seas prevailing off Beachy Head.

The rope had earlier snapped as Richley and his sole crewman, Mr Trice, tried to tow the motor cruiser from their base on the River Medway to their destination in Brighton. Mr Trice fell overboard during the treacherous operation to refix the towline. His body was recovered off Beachy Head 11 days later.

Richley, 39, was jailed for eight months at Southampton Crown Court in February this year after admitting two offences under the Merchant Shipping Act.

The sentencing judge said he was guilty of a “catalogue of disasters which went beyond mere errors of judgment”.

But his case reached London’s Appeal Court on Thursday as Richley, of Sandown Road, West Malling, challenged his jail term.

His lawyers urged that the sentence would have a devastating impact on his family life and livelihood and he was the “main breadwinner” for his family and his marine tugboat business risked going under without him.

But Mr Justice Teare, sitting with Lord Justice Tracy and Judge Melbourne Inman QC, said the tragedy was a “disaster waiting to happen” and that Richley “chose to leave Dover in the face of forecast bad weather”.

The appeal was dismissed.