Skipper and company owner spared jail after death of girl, 15

Speedboat skipper and company owner are handed suspended sentences over death of 15-year-old girl killed when boat crashed into a 15ft metal buoy

  • Speedboat driver Michael Lawrence acquitted of manslaughter of 15-year-old 
  • He was found guilty of failing to maintain proper lookout and safe speed in the death of teenager Emily Lewis following Southampton Water crash in 2020
  • He and company owner Michael Howley both received suspended prison terms 

Speedboat skipper Michael Lawrence and company owner Michael Howley have each received 18-week prison terms suspended for two years over the death of 15-year-old Emily Lewis.

Miss Lewis’s distraught family today launched a scathing attack on skipper Lawrence as he avoided jail, branding him a ‘coward’ and a ‘weak man who has shown no remorse’.

Heartbroken mother Nikki Lewis told skipper Michael Lawrence – nicknamed ‘Mr Safe’ – he has ‘broken’ their family and ‘kept them in hell’ since the tragedy.

‘Respected’ mariner Lawrence – who failed to see the navigation buoy for 14 seconds and ploughed straight into it – was told by 15 year old Emily’s parents ‘they will never forgive him’.

Emily’s father Simon Lewis said he hopes Lawrence sees the image of his dying daughter whenever he wakes and goes to sleep, and her sister Amy revealed she has been suicidal since losing her ‘best friend’.

Undated handout photo issued by Hampshire Police of Emily Lewis

Michael Lawrence (left) and Michael Howley (right) at a previous court appearance 

Mr Lewis also told of the moment he had to make the decision to turn off Emily’s life support and ‘watch the light dim from her eyes’.

A court heard Lawrence, 55, took a selfie during the speedboat ride on August 22, 2020, and later drove straight into the fixed, metal buoy at 36.6kts (42.2mph).

The crash on Southampton Water, Hants, left Emily with unsurvivable chest injuries as she was crushed against a metal handle.

A total of 11 passengers were treated at hospital with injuries, with Mrs Lewis suffering a broken wrist and Amy – then 18 – suffering a broken arm.

Mr and Mrs Lewis took their daughters on the ‘adrenaline-fuelled’ ride, run by Seadogz Ltd, as a lockdown ‘treat’.

Lawrence ‘changed his story’ over how he missed the huge buoy, first blaming a covid mask and then in court claiming he went ‘lightheaded’ and momentarily lost his vision ‘like a sneeze’.

He was cleared of manslaughter, which he denied, but was convicted of two safety charges – failure to maintain a proper lookout and failure to proceed at a safe speed.

Today, at Winchester Crown Court, Hants, Lawrence – a married father of two who spent 20 years in the RNLI – avoided jail and was given an 18-week custodial sentence suspended for two years.

The speedboat following the crash on August 22 2022

Screengrab taken from footage dated August 22, 2020 issued by Hampshire Police which was shown to the jury at Winchester Crown Court in the trial of speedboat skipper Michael Lawrence

Jurors at Winchester Crown Court were shown a selfie Michael Lawrence took on the trip

He bowed his head and sobbed as Emily’s family said he has ‘robbed’ them of making memories in a series of harrowing victim statements.

I haven’t suffered another ‘loss of vision’ since the crash, skipper admits  

Lawrence admitted he has not suffered another ‘loss of vision’ since the one he claimed to have had when he crashed into the buoy.

The speedboat skipper confessed he has been seen by a number of doctors since the speedboat smash that killed Emily but they have not found a medical condition.

In cross-examination, prosecutor Christine Agnew KC said to the 55 year old he may have become distracted by his face mask.

She said: ‘What did happen was you were fiddling with the face mask and that’s why you missed the buoy.’

Lawrence denied it and told the jury: ‘I never saw a buoy, I’ve got no recollection’, adding that he was ‘very confused’ and ‘in shock’ after the crash.

Ms Agnew KC added: ‘What really happened is that you may have convinced yourself you had a blackout, but you got distracted and you were not being honest.’

Mrs Lewis said: ‘From the day of the accident my life has changed dramatically, I carry on but I do not live anymore.

‘My family is what I got up every day for, my girls Emily and Amy are what I lived for.

‘What you took away from me and my family has left us broken and unable to function.

‘Emily was a fun, quiet, caring, young girl with a wicked sense of humour. We loved her so much but now our hearts are empty.

‘You have taken away from us not being able to watch Emily grow into a beautiful young lady, the amazing adult that she would have been.

‘I will never forgive you for this.

‘I go back to the day; all I can see is Emily’s blue lips and her saying to me that she cannot breathe. I was not able to hold her and comfort her because of my other injuries.

‘The paramedics took Emily and that is the last time I saw her until she was in a hospital bed, I remember screaming hearing Amy scream and this is when I knew we were going to have to turn off the life support machine off.

‘I couldn’t help her and this haunts me daily, I cannot get that image out of my head.

‘That is why I survive and not live, because of what you did to me and my family on that day.

‘It is two and a half years and you have kept us in this hell, you could have taken responsibility for what happened that day but you have chosen not to – to me you are just a coward only thinking about yourself.

‘You show no remorse. You are a weak man.

‘You never once stepped up for anyone on the boat that day.’

Owner Michael Howley is also on trial at Winchester Crown Court on a safety charge

Mr Lewis said his daughter’s death ‘has truly broken me’ and he can no longer do his senior management job so he had to take a 30 per cent pay cut.

To Lawrence, he said: ‘I can vividly see her skin, smooth and pale as alabaster, and her lips already looking blue.

I relive the tragic crash at night, skipper tells court 

Skipper Michael Lawrence today said he ‘relives’ the tragic crash at night and ‘lives in fear of it happening again’.

Lawrence, 55, told the court he replays the crash that killed 15 year old Emily Lewis in his head but insists he doesn’t know how it happened.

‘The medication takes the edge off but it’s still very hard’, Lawrence told jurors.

He said he ‘changed his story’ about a face mask slipping over his face because it ‘didn’t make sense’.

‘I believe when I was going back on the boat I saw the face mask on the water, and I was trying to reason what happened, I didn’t know what happened and the only conclusion I could draw was that it came over my face.

‘I said it to people but as time has gone on it doesn’t make sense.

‘Things don’t add up and I relive the last turn and hitting the buoy at night time and day time.

‘I don’t remember anything at all, I knew I’ve got my hand on the throttle, I don’t remember anything else until just before the impact.

‘I cannot understand how it came to it.

‘I think I said ‘bloody hell’, it didn’t sound like me that said it as I pulled the throttle back.

‘There’s so many things that don’t add up, I was going downwind so there was no wind on my face, I cannot recount that part but in the middle there’s so many things that don’t add up in my head.

‘I don’t know what’s happened to me, I still don’t know what’s happened to me and I live in fear of it happening again.

‘I have just wanted to find out what happened because I just don’t know.’

‘I hope you remember this too, I hope that this is what you see in your minds eye when you wake up and before you sleep.

‘On that day I also had to make the decision to turn off the machines that were keeping her alive, and then sit with her while I watched the light dim from her eyes.

‘I reminded her while I sat holding her hand, knowing full well that she could not hear me as she had already passed, that I would remember her as a baby holding my finger while she had her bottle.

‘This hole will never be filled or mended, it just sits there as a poisonous reminder of what you did that day.

‘Seeing my wife Nikki and daughter Amy continuing to struggle with their serious physical and mental injuries makes me so angry.

‘I was extremely surprised that a man of your experience was so woefully inadequate in taking charge of a bad situation.

‘In my understanding your number one job as skipper of a vessel is to look after passengers in your care, at what point did you do this?

‘It feels to me the only concern you had was for yourself, this has continued over the last two and a half years.

‘If you were not at fault, who was? I find it very disappointing that you were not strong enough to admit you made a mistake.’

Tearful Amy said her sister was her ‘best friend and ‘the person I thought I would go through life with’.

She said: ‘The loneliness I have felt since she died hurts so much. We did everything together, I spent every hour I could with her.

‘I got into drama school three months after the crash, my dream ever since I was little. The first person I called was Em, I waited for the phone to go through to voicemail wondering where she was.

‘Then I remembered she was never going to answer and I was never going to be able to tell her.

‘I don’t get to see her fall in love and have children, we won’t be at each other’s weddings, something we have always talked about.

‘The sadness became too much, I didn’t think I could carry on.

‘My poor parents had to hear their now-only daughter wanted to die, and that’s not fair, but I was just scared.’

Other passengers on the boat criticised Lawrence, with Thomas Vining saying he was ‘appalled and disgusted’ by him and Helen Mann revealing the psychological impact was so ‘immense’ she now has PTSD.

Mitigating for Lawrence, from Blackfield, Hants, barrister Mark Ashley said: ‘He holds himself responsible for Emily’s death, he said there is not a day that goes by where he does not wish he was the one who died that day.

‘He does accept it was his mistake.

‘He was someone held in high regard, not a chancer, not someone that took risks.’

Seadogz owner Michael Howley, a 52 year old married father, was also today given an 18-week jail term suspended for two years, having been convicted of failing to take all reasonable steps to secure the boat operated in a safe manner after he employed Lawrence.

His company has received multiple complaints from injured passengers and once paid out £300,000 to a wounded passenger, the court heard.

Mitigating for Howley, from Hordle, Hants, barrister Keely Harvey said he ‘could not have foreseen’ the crash.

Sentencing, The Honourable Mr Justice Christopher Butcher said the case was ‘terrible and tragic’.

He said: ‘Her life was cut very short… Emily was a funny, caring, quiet young girl with a strong sense of humour.

‘It was an incident with profound and lasting consequences.

‘It is still unknown why you drove the RIB as you did. I am sure the accident was not caused by your deliberate aiming at the buoy or deciding to go close and swerve away.

‘Instead, what happened must have been the result of inattention or distraction.

‘In the case of Lawrence, the fault was over a short period of time but caused tragic and most serious harm.

‘In Howley, the fault was over a protracted period and risked harm to many.’

Explaining his decision not to jail Lawrence, Judge Butcher said: ‘There is a real prospect of rehabilitation, Mr Lawrence can be said to have rehabilitated himself by abandoning his maritime practices.

‘He has strong personal mitigation. Immediate custody would have an immediate impact on his family given he cares [for them].’

Lawrence and Howley must also complete 125 hours of unpaid work each and must £1,000 costs each.

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