Fine after death of diver near Dunbar First World War wreck

A diving instructor has been fined for breaching health and safety regulations after a trainee tragically died during a dive off the coast of East Lothian.
Tragedy fine: RobertsTragedy fine: Roberts
Tragedy fine: Roberts

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Ashley Roberts, 29, was training William Peace and Richard Heppell for a 148ft dive to the wreck of a German mine laying submarine whick sank in 1916 three miles off the coast of Dunbar

Mr Peace, 59, and Mr Heppell were taking part in a closed-circuit rebreather diving course organised by Roberts which is more technical than scuba diving and enables divers to go greater depths.

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But during the dive on July 8, 2017 Mr Peace got into difficulties at a depth of 130ft to 144ft and soon became unresponsive.

Mr Heppell attempted to rescue his stricken companion but was forced to return to the surface for his own safety.

Mr Peace’s body was later recovered by police divers using a sonar equipment on August 30, 2017.

A subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the tragedy found Roberts, of Birstall, West Yorkshire, had failed to conduct a suitable assessment of the competence of the pupils prior to the dive on the 755-tonne U74E .

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The HSE investigation found that although an assessment dive had been carried out, it was not sufficient to measure the capability of the divers and should have been carried out at a depth much shallower than 45m.

There was also a failure to verify the number of rebreather hours Mr Peace had completed during his previous dives or to check each diver’s rescue ability.

Roberts, sole director of the now dissolved Ash Roberts Technical Limited, appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last week where he pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) and Section 37(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.

The court was told a post-mortem had found Mr Peace, from Markinch, Fife, had been suffering from “significant coronary artery disease” at the time of his death.

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In a written ruling, Sheriff Roderick Flinn said the company’s failings included “a failure to check both divers’ current levels of competence, as opposed to merely their previously attained training levels” and “a failure to make a proper assessment of each diver’s rescue ability”.

The diving company was also found to have failed “to comply with the recognised practice that an assessment dive should take place to a depth significantly shallower than the limit 2 of the diver’s existing qualification - in this case, it is suggested, not deeper than 20 metres”.

Fining Roberts £2,300, Sheriff Flinn said: “These failures did not cause or contribute to the injury or death of any person, although no doubt they came to light as a result of Mr Peace’s death.

“The post-mortem report notes Mr Peace’s significant coronary artery disease.

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“Death by drowning could not be confirmed or excluded. Mr Peace’s death was certified as “death whilst diving in a man with coronary artery disease”.

“I am satisfied that notwithstanding the delay in bringing this case to court, the accused cooperated fully with the police, gave prompt instructions to his agent and agreed a plea as soon as the detailed terms of that plea had been adjusted by those advising him.”

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