Skipper jailed for nine months

The Cardenden shellfish boat owner has been jailed for nine months for health and safety regulatory failings that led to the death of a diver.

Guthrie Melville, skipper of the boat Solstice, was found guilty on two charges on indictment contrary to the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 on February 17 this year after a trial at Stirling Sheriff Court.

Mr Irvine got into difficulties while fishing in Largo Bay.

Mr Irvine got into difficulties while fishing in Largo Bay.

During the five-day trial, the court heard that on March 24, 2011, James Irvine, from Glenrothes, was scuba diving from Guthrie’s boat to collect shellfish in Largo Bay.

During a dive, Mr Irvine descended as normal, but after some time, the people on the boat were unable to see any air bubbles on the surface of the water from his breathing apparatus.

After looking for some time they contacted the emergency services to report the diver missing.

A search was carried out by the Coastguard and by a police dive team.

Mr Irvine’s body was found and recovered from the sea bed the following day.

The court heard that 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 or provide appropriate supervision, equipment - including a means of communication - and essential safety gear.

Melville also 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 in the event of a reasonably foreseeable emergency.

The court also heard that 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.

Gary Aitken, head of health and safety division with the 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.

“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.”