Richard Morris and Catriona Boyd, specialist marine lawyers at Penningtons Manches Cooper, have successfully defended a prosecution brought by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) against the master of the Chiefton tug and its owners, Palmers Marine Services.
This case concerned the sinking of the Chiefton in August 2011 off Greenwich Pier, after it was run over by the substantial crane barge it was towing. The vessel’s master and mate were rescued from the river but tragically the engineer, Darren Lacey, was lost in the incident. The master and Palmers were charged, alongside the Port of London Authority and the owners of the crane barge, with offences of unsafely operating and endangering their ship.
After a seven week trial in the Snaresbrook Crown Court before Mrs Justine Thornton QC, the jury unanimously acquitted all parties of all charges.
The charges faced by the master and Palmers focused on the operation, condition and maintenance of the Chiefton. Particular and unwarranted criticism was directed at her working on the river with engine ventilation flaps open and how the lifejackets were worn by the crew. Had they been found guilty, the master could have faced a custodial sentence and the owners an unlimited fine.
Richard Morris commented: "The case was extraordinary in many respects not least for the shocking eight year delay in bringing the Prosecution and the loss of vital physical evidence by the Crown. The MCA failed to provide any proper explanation for this delay and it is difficult to see how these unsuccessful prosecutions can be considered a good use of public money."