Diver’s death trial: Equipment ‘a serious risk’

The case against Guthrie Melville is being heard at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court. Picture: Neil Hanna

The case against Guthrie Melville is being heard at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court. Picture: Neil Hanna

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AN EXPERT told a court that electrical equipment found on board a boat after the death of diver in the Firth of Forth posed a risk of serious injury to anyone using it underwater.

Michael Leaney, principal inspector of diving at the Health and Safety Executive, said he visited the 26-foot Solstice, based at Methil Docks, Fife, and saw a set of electrical probes.

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He said he believed they were connected by cables to a welding generator on board the vessel and used to stun razor clams.

He issued formal notice to the skipper of the Solstice, 60-year-old Guthrie Melville, prohibiting electro-fishing from the vessel.

Mr Leaney, 58, who was a mine warfare and clearance diver in the Royal Navy for 21 years before joining the HSE, said he also issued a prohibition against shellfish diving from the boat.

He said: “I formed the opinion that there was a risk of serious injury to a diver diving on the sea bed on top of unprotected copper electrodes attached to a welding generator which could put out quite a serious amount of power.

“Bearing in mind that it only takes a few milliamps going up your arm and across your chest to stop your heart, I formed the opinion that there was a risk of serious injury.”

Jurors at Stirling Sheriff Court were shown photographs of the electrical probes and cables found on the Solstice after the death of the diver, 42-year-old father-of-two James Irvine, of Glenrothes, Fife.

However Detective Constable Grant Kennedy, 32, said that when he went to remove articles from the Solstice about a week later, the probes were not to be found.

He told Stirling Sheriff Court: “We did ask about the probes. From what I recall Mr Melville said the probes had either been destroyed or thrown overboard by himself.”

The court heard that Mr Irvine’s body was recovered from the water at Largo Bay, Fife, by a police frogman on March 25th, 2011, the day after he failed to surface.

He was found lying face up on the sea bed without a face mask. Neither of his two regulators were in his mouth, and his inflation hose was not connected to his dry suit.

Police diving supervisor PC Karen Gordon, who directed the search from on board a police boat and helped to haul Mr Irvine’s body from the water, said she checked his equipment and found nothing wrong with it apart from an insignificant leak from a pressure gauge. But she said he was not wearing an inflatable vest, known as a bouyancy control device (BCD), and was carrying a total of 46 lbs in diving weights.

She said : “Without a BCD he’d struggle to increase his bouyancy -- he’d struggle to float and get himself off the bottom and back up to the surface.”

With regard to the weights, she said: “It’s probably twice what I’d wear. It’s going to be a very hard swim if you’re looking to get back to the surface. That’s a lot of weight to try to return to the surface if you have no bouyancy.”

Melville, of Kirkburn Drive, Cardenden, Fife, denies a series of charges alleging he was responsible for safety failings that led to Mr Irvine’s death.

Earlier, Mr Irvine’s widow, Hazel, 42, said her husband, an unemployed kitchen fitter had been phoned before his death by a man called Guthrie who offered him work diving for razor clams in the River Forth.

Mr Irvine told Hazel he was to be paid between £100 and £150 a day, putting in electrical rods, similar to cattle prods, and bringing up razorfish.

Up to a dozen bundles of razor fish were found banded-up on the sea bed in the area where his body was recovered in eight metres of water.

The trial, before Sheriff William Gilchrist and jury, continues.

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