Razor clam boatman jailed after diver death

Guthrie Melville was found guilty
Guthrie Melville was found guilty
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A BOATMAN whose failings led to the death of a diver in the Firth of Forth was jailed yesterday after a sheriff said he had “effectively no safety measures” on board the tragedy vessel.

Guthrie Melville, 60, was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment over the tragedy in which father-of-two James

Irvine, 42, from Glenrothes, died after getting into difficulties in Largo Bay, Fife, on 24 March 2011.

He could have been jailed for a maximum of just two years under the battery of health and safety regulations with which he had been charged.

Mr Irvine’s wife Hazel, also 42, called for sentencing in such cases to be made comparable to culpable homicide.

Stirling Sheriff Court heard that Mr Irvine, an unemployed kitchen fitter, whose only dive training had been a two-week holiday course in Turkey, had been recruited by Melville, owner of the 26-foot Solstice, to fish for razor clams.

The shellfish, which are prized in the Far East, could be sold on at high prices, and a day’s catch could fetch Melville more than £2,000.

The Solstice, based at Methil Docks, Fife, is thought to have been using an unapproved technique to make the razor clams rise to the surface of the sandy bottom, by trailing unprotected copper rods connected to an electric welder.

The set-up posed a risk of serious injury – only a few milliamps could stop a diver’s heart.

The court was told that there was no way of knowing if this was what had happened to Mr Irvine. The rods were found and photographed on the Solstice the day after the accident, but when police went back a week later to collect them as evidence they had gone and Melville told officers he had dumped them in the sea.

When Mr Irvine’s body was discovered lying face-up on the river bed by a police frogman there was plenty of air left in his breathing tank. But neither of his two air-supply regulators was in his mouth and he had drowned.

Following a five-day trial last month, a jury decided one thing was certain: Melville’s safety failings meant that once the victim had got into difficulties, his fate was sealed.

Melville was found guilty of a string of breaches of diving at work regulations and health and safety legislation, “in consequence of which” Mr Irvine failed to surface and drowned. It was his first day’s work as a diver.

Melville, of Cardenden, Fife, was also found guilty of putting five other divers at risk through similar failings over a six-year period between April 2005 and the date of the tragedy. He had denied the offences and claimed he had been taking Mr Irvine out for “a pleasure dive”.

He was told by Sheriff William Gilchrist: “A custodial sentence is inevitable.”

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