Skipper loses appeal in Eastbourne drowning case

Eastbourne lifeboat (stock photo) SUS-150704-094025001
Eastbourne lifeboat (stock photo) SUS-150704-094025001

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.

Coastguards were called to investigate an unmanned canoe

Coastguards were called to investigate an unmanned canoe

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.

He was the “main breadwinner” for his family and his marine tugboat business risked going under without him.

Although his crimes were acknowledged to be very serious, his lawyers claimed they could have been punished with a suspended sentence.

Richley was an industrious and decent man, with many years’ experience working on the River Medway - where he owned his own vessel.

Mr Trice had been a good friend as well as his main crewman, the court heard.

Mr Justice Teare, sitting with Lord Justice Tracy and Judge Melbourne Inman QC, said the tragedy was a “disaster waiting to happen”.

The towline he was using was defective and his vessel was hopelessly undermanned.

The judge added that “he chose to leave Dover in the face of forecast bad weather” and there was no safety harness available.

“This was a very serious case of negligence,” said the judge, dismissing the appeal.

“We consider that eight months was not excessive and that no shorter penalty could have been ordered.”

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