Loch tragedy fishermen were not drunk, fatal accident inquiry told

FOUR Glasgow fishermen who lost their lives in a boating accident in Loch Awe were "in fine spirits" on their final night out – but they were not drunk.

CCTV footage showing the men enjoying a few drinks and playing pool, just hours before they died, was played at a fatal accident inquiry, which opened at Oban Sheriff Court yesterday.

Craig Currie, 30; Thomas Douglas, 36; William Carty, 47; and Stephen Carty, 42, all died when they got into difficulties on Loch Awe as they attempted to return by boat in heavy fog to their camp site, across the loch from the Tight Line pub.

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Brian Somerville, 58, co-owner of the Tight Line, said the men made regular fishing trips to Loch Awe. He said they had just four rounds of drink and were not drunk when they left.

Recalling the night of 20 March, into the early hours of 21 March, last year, he said: "They were fine, in good spirits, they didn't appear to have been drinking beforehand and they were well dressed. They had weather protection suits on. We knew these guys, got on well, had a few laughs and just sat and chatted."

He added: "When they left, they were still in good spirits. I have seen a lot of people drunk and the different conditions they get into and these gentlemen, in my opinion, were not heavily influenced by the alcohol they had.

"They were very compos mentis, they were able to get all their gear (all-weather suits) back on with no problem and they were very much looking forward to their fishing the next day."

The men told him they were camping at the other side of the loch, near Kilchurn Castle, and had come across the water by boat, which he did not recall them doing on any other night-time visit to the pub, saying they usually walked, or got a lift by car.

The men had travelled from Glasgow to Loch Awe with their friend Edward Colquhoun, who remained at the camp site when they went to the Tight Line. He raised the alarm when he heard the men shout for help as they tried to make the return boat journey. He is one of 73 witnesses who is still to give evidence to the inquiry.

Yesterday, witnesses told how the night was clear when the men arrived at the pub, about 11:30pm.

But when they made their fateful trip back, a couple of hours later, conditions had deteriorated into a blanket of thick fog.

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Mr Somerville, who took over the pub in August 2007, said: "Earlier that evening, as far as I remember, it was quite clear, it was dry."

But when the men left, he said: "The mist had come down. The amount of time I have been here, I haven't seen it like that, before or since. It just suddenly came down, as far as I remember, just after midnight."

Patrick Donnelly, 44, an engineer, who had been fishing with the four men on many occasions, said he had given his glass fibre boat to Thomas Douglas to take on the fishing trips.

A set of oars, retrieved from the Loch Awe area after the tragedy, were shown to Mr Donnelly in court and he identified them as being from the boat he had given Mr Douglas.

He described all four men as experienced fishermen, as he was himself, who could all swim and took safety measures. He said life jackets were carried on the boat.

But questioned by procurator-fiscal Craig Harris, he said he had never, and would never, go out in the boat in mist, because visibility was impaired.

He said he would never go out on it in the dark, either.

Holidaymaker Anthony Payne, 56, who was staying at the Loch Awe Hotel on the night of the accident, said he saw a light in the direction of the men's camp site at about 11:30pm.

He said: "It was so clear at that time of night. The mist came down all of a sudden."

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Mr Payne said he was woken by noises from outside but was not sure where they were from. He said: "It was as if someone was shouting up and down the loch."

The inquiry continues today.