Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

March 23, 2015

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Shellfish boat skipper jailed following death of diver

The skipper of a boat which was being used to fish for razor clams in Largo Bay, Leven, has been jailed for nine months following the death of diver James Irvine, 42, who went missing during a dive in March 2011. His body was later discovered by police divers on the seabed.

Guthrie Melville, 60, the skipper of the boat ‘Solstice’ was sentenced at Stirling Sheriff Court for health and safety regulatory failings that lead to the Mr Irvine’s death.

It was heard how on 24 March 2011, Mr Irvine was scuba diving from Solstice to collect shellfish in the tidal waters of the River Forth Estuary, known as Largo Bay, at a location south of the village of Lower Largo, Fife.

During the dive, Mr Irvine descended as normal, but after some time, the people in the boat were unable to see any air bubbles on the surface of the water from his breathing apparatus, and after looking for some time, contacted the emergency services to report the diver missing.

A search was conducted by the Coastguard, and a Police Scotland dive team. On 25 March 2011 Mr Irvine’s body was found lying face up on the seabed without either of his air supply regulators in his mouth.

The court heard that Mr Irvine, an unemployed kitchen fitter, had been doing his first day’s work as a diver. His only dive training had been a two-week holiday course in Turkey.

Following an investigation it was found that Mr Melville, as the master of the vessel and the dive contractor had:

  • failed to assess the risks to the health and safety of Mr Irvine;
  • failed to provide appropriate supervision, equipment including a means of communication and essential safety gear;
  • failed to ensure there were sufficient people who were competent to take part in the diving project; and
  • failed to have a stand by diver in place to provide assistance to Mr Irvine in the event of a reasonably foreseeable emergency.

It was also found that Mr Melville had displayed the same lack of regard to these essential health and safety regulations as far back as April 2005 and as a result exposed a number of other divers to serious risk.

Guthrie Melville was found guilty after trial at Stirling Sheriff Court on two charges on indictment contrary to The Diving at Work Regulations 1997, regulation 6 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, section 33(1)(c).

Gary Aitken, head of health and safety division, Crown Office, said: “The failings on the part of Guthrie Melville lead to the tragic death of James Irvine.

“This was a foreseeable and entirely avoidable tragedy which has left family and friends devastated at the loss of a loved one.

“Hopefully, today’s outcome will highlight the need for dive contractors and vessel owners to keep the health and safety of their employees and divers to the fore.”

Judith Tetlow, HSE principal inspector of Diving, said: “This dive resulted in tragic consequences which could have been avoided had Guthrie Melville planned the activity properly using competent and appropriately qualified divers.

“Diving is a high hazard activity, but if it is conducted properly, in accordance with the regulations and guidance, the risks can be managed. The minimum team size normally required when diving for shellfish is three – a supervisor, a working diver, and a standby diver. Additional people may be required to operate the boat and to assist in an emergency.

“In addition, simple measures taken to ensure that the diver in trouble can communicate to the dive supervisor and that the diver is marked by a line and float, or by a line to an attendant on the dive boat, maximise the chance of a successful outcome to an emergency situation.

“We hope this sentence will send a strong message to the shellfish diving industry that employers have a duty to plan and carry out work properly in order to protect workers.”

Mr Irvine’s wife Hazel said Mr Melville should have been treated like a killer, saying: “I am disgusted with the sentence. He took my husband’s life and he should have gone down for years. He should have been treated like it was culpable homicide, because that was what it was.”

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Ray R
Ray R
7 years ago

I cannot disagree with the victim’s wife, the sentence is pathetic given the high risk activity, the lack of training and experience of the victim and the previous history of the accused. The indictment should have been culpable homicide.

Stephen Bridgehouse
Stephen Bridgehouse
7 years ago

Being a BSAC dive leader, it always concerns me that people on holiday take a 4 or 5 day course and expect to be a competent scuba diver at the end of it. It has taken me years to attain this qualification by ensuring that I was competent in all aspects of diving, planning and what to do in an emergency. I agree with the Mrs Irvine that Mr Melville should have served years and not months for effectively killing someone whilst at work. He had a past history of displaying the same lack of regard to these essential health… Read more »