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Skipper and firm owner avoid jail over death of girl, 15, in speedboat crash

Emily Lewis, 15, suffered fatal injuries after the boat crashed into a buoy (Picture: Solent/PA)

A speedboat pilot and the boat operator owner have avoided jail after a high-speed crash with a buoy killed a teenage passenger.

Emily Lewis, 15, suffered fatal injuries after the Seadogz rigid inflatable boat (rib) smashed into a navigation buoy in Southampton Water on 22 August 2020.

A number of other passengers were seriously injured.

‘Experienced’ speedboat skipper Michael Lawrence had taken the ‘high-thrill’ ride to an extreme as he careened along the water at 36.6 knots (41mph).

He was convicted for driving the vessel without maintaining a proper lookout or going at a safer speed before the vessel collided with the 4.5-metre-high buoy.

After a trial at Winchester Crown Court, Lawrence was cleared of manslaughter.

Emily Lewis was crushed by the metal handle in front of her during the collision (Picture: PA)

Today, he and Seadogz company owner Michael Howley were given 18-month suspended sentences.

Howley was previously not found guilty by a majority verdict for failing to operate the craft safely.

The court previously heard how Emily’s parents, Simon and Nikki, had taken their daughters Emily and Amy, 18, for the speedboat ride.

After the two teens boarded the Stormforce 950 rib during ‘perfect conditions’, Lawrence drove the boat across the wake of the Red Falcon ferry five times.

The rib then barreled towards the North West Netley buoy for 14 seconds before slamming into it, throwing two riders into the water at 10.11am.

Emily was crushed against the metal handle in front of her, suffering what doctors described as ‘unsurvivable’ injuries.

Christine Agnew KC, prosecuting, said: ‘This was to be a high-thrills ride. Tragically it was both a high-thrills and ultimately an extremely dangerous ride, which ended with the death of Emily.

Skipper Michael Lawrence crashed into the buoy after barreling towards it for some 14 seconds (Picture: PA)
Michael Howley, 51, was accused of failing to ensure the boat operated safely (Picture: PA)

‘She died from internal injuries she sustained by being crushed against the metal handle immediately in front of her, when the boat crashed head-on into a metal buoy which Michael Lawrence appears not to have seen.

‘Perhaps because he wasn’t paying attention and was distracted, or because he was planning to take a sharp turn around it, and because he wasn’t paying close enough attention, he miscalculated the turn.

‘In either event, the prosecution say that his actions that day fell far below those of a competent skipper.’

Emily died after her family decided to switch off her life support system as she had suffered oxygen starvation to the brain.

Lawrence initially chalked up the incident to his Covid face mak being blown up by the wind, covering his eyes.

But mobile phone footage contradicted his claims. Instead, Lawrence ‘changed his story, the jury was told, to him blacking out.

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‘Perhaps he began to appreciate that his explanation about the mask did not provide a credible explanation for why he drove straight at the buoy for as long as he did, at least 10 seconds,’ Agnew said.

She added: ‘Amy Lewis broke her arm in the collision and passed out. When she regained consciousness, she saw the handlebar in front of Emily had gone straight into her stomach.

‘Emily told her family she was scared and could not breathe as her lips turned blue, but instead of helping her Lawrence simply paced up and down the boat ‘not appearing to assist anyone and stepping over those in his way.’

After the accident, Lawrence phoned Howley four times, telling him: ‘Hey mate, I have had an accident, it’s a really bad one.’

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