Schoolgirl, 15, 'crushed' to death in speedboat crash when skipper 'smashed into 15ft buoy after doing stunts' | The Sun

A SCHOOLGIRL was killed in a horror speedboat crash after a skipper smashed straight into a 15ft buoy, a court heard today.

Michael Lawrence is accused of performing reckless stunts before ploughing into the metal structure at 36.6 knots – or 42.2mph.

The devastating collision threw passengers overboard and killed 15-year-old Emily Lewis when her chest was "crushed" against a handle.

Others were left with broken bones.

Lawrence, who was described as highly experienced, qualified and respected, is accused of ignoring safety rules and failing to see the buoy for 14 seconds.

The "distracted" 55-year-old "wasn't paying attention" or "miscalculated" a turn during the "extremely dangerous" ride, Winchester Crown Court was told.


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The captain – apparently nicknamed 'Mr Safe' – earlier took a selfie on board the high-powered speedboat on Southampton Water, Hampshire, when he had 11 passengers.

He initially blamed the accident on his Covid face mask being blown up by the wind and covering his eyes – but just days later "changed his story" and said he had a momentary loss of vision.

Seadogz Rib Charter Ltd owner Michael Howley, 52, is also on trial facing a safety charge.

The incident happened on Southampton Water around 10am on August 22 in 2020 when families were booking excursions while on summer holidays.

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Emily, who was on board the boat with her mum Nikki, dad Simon and older sister Amy, then 18, was one of 11 people taken to hospital following the crash.

The court heard the youngster complained she couldn't breathe, was scared and her lips were blue but Lawrence paced up and down the boat "not appearing to assist anyone and stepping over those in his way".

The "beautiful" schoolgirl, from Park Gate, sadly died at Southampton General Hospital later that day from catastrophic chest injuries.

Opening the manslaughter trial on January 13, prosecutor Christine Agnew KC described Lawrence's safety briefing as "wishy washy" and his behaviour overall as "truly, exceptionally bad and grossly negligent".

She told jurors Emily's parents wanted to "treat" their daughters to the boat ride, adding: "This was to be high thrills, but tragically it was both a high thrills and ultimately an extremely dangerous ride which ended in death.

"She died from internal injuries she sustained by being crushed against the metal handle immediately in front of her when the boat crashed head on into a buoy, which Michael Lawrence appears not to have seen.

"Perhaps because he wasn’t paying attention and was distracted, or because he was planning to take a sharp turn around it and because he wasn’t paying close enough attention, he miscalculated the turn.

"In either event, the prosecution say his actions that day fell far below those of a competent skipper."

Two other passengers ended up in the water and others were seriously injured.


Ms Agnew KC said Lawrence initially said his face mask had blown up and covered his eyes, but later blamed a "blackout" when footage emerged on social media.

She continued: "The prosecution’s case is that despite his experience, or maybe even because of it, he took risks he should not have done and failed to observe basic safe practice whilst skippering the RIB when he alone was responsible for the safety of, and owed a duty of care to, the 11 other people on board.

"It is the Crown’s case that the actions of Lawrence that August afternoon were truly exceptionally bad, grossly negligent and caused the death of Emily."

Ms Agnew KC went on to accuse Howley of failing to ensure his RIB was operated in a safe manner.

The 60-minute RIB ride was advertised as "adrenaline-fuelled", involving "speed", "tight turns" and "wake rides".

Lawrence held qualifications including an advanced powerboat course, an advanced powerboat instructor course, and a yacht master course.

Emily's mother felt Lawrence's briefing was "wishy washy", while one of his co-worker's said it was "quick".

He even said the group would "take it easy today" in light of the sea conditions, it was heard.

Emily was saying she could not breathe, was scared and her lips were blue.

On the ride, Emily was placed in the middle due to her age and being the smallest on board.

Her feet could not touch the floor and there were no seatbelts.

The Lewis family felt Lawrence "took corners really sharply and they felt uncomfortable", the court was told.

The boat reached speeds of up to 47.8 knots (55mph) during the ride, performing figure-of-eight turns around buoys.

The speed limit on the water had expired, but Lawrence and Howley thought it was 40 knots.

Other skippers said they felt he came too close to buoys.

Ms Agnew KC said the boat had driven in the wake of a car ferry five times before heading straight towards the buoy, which was 15.4ft (4.69 metres) and a "large green structure".

"The distance between [the RIB and buoy] was 909ft (277 metres)," she continued.

"Lawrence accelerated and headed straight in the direction of the buoy.

"From the buoy coming into sight there were 14 seconds until impact at 10.11. The last recorded speed was 36.6 knots."


Phone records show Lawrence called Howley four times to tell him he had had "a really bad accident".

Amy Lewis broke her arm and passed out. When she regained consciousness she saw the handlebar in front of her "distressed" sister had gone straight into her stomach.

"Emily was saying she could not breathe, was scared and her lips were blue," Ms Agnew KC said.

She suffered brain damage and her relatives made the "unspeakably hard decision" to turn her life support machine off, the prosecutor added.

Medical evidence showed her injuries were "unsurvivable".

In the aftermath, Lawrence told several people, including wife Karen, that his mask had blown over his eyes.

He later claimed he suffered a momentary loss of vision, comparing it to "sneezing while driving a car", and insisted he was only travelling 25 knots at the time.

The jury was later told neither Lawrence nor Howley was aware of an important safety code on passenger safety on small commercial crafts.

Called the HSPV Code, it was made after a crash in Scotland in 2016 and was promoted by the likes of the Royal Yachting Association.

Lawrence, of Blackfield in the New Forest, denies manslaughter by gross negligence, failure to maintain a proper lookout as master of the boat, and failing to proceed at a safe speed while operating the boat.

Howley, of Hordle, New Forest, denies "failing to take all reasonable steps to secure the boat operated in a safe manner".

Barrister Karim Khalil, defending Lawrence, who he claims now has PTSD, said he kept a "proper" lookout and did not travel at improper speed.

James Newton-Price KC, for Howley, said the married father was in the RNLI and did "what he reasonably could".

The four-week trial continues.

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