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'We lost a son ..but Solway owner has got off scot-free' FAMILIES' FURY AS TRIAL IS AXED.

Byline: By KRISSY STORRAR and RON MOORE

OUTRAGED relatives of fishermen who died in the Solway Harvester tragedy yesterday broke down and wept after the trial against the boat's owner collapsed.

Richard Gidney, 41, walked free after a judge ruled he had no case to answer on seven counts of manslaughter.

His vessel had capsized and sunk in storm-lashed seas off the Isle of Man in January 2000, with the loss of all seven crew.

Skipper Craig Mills, 29, died with his brother, Robin, 33, and cousin, David, 18.

Fellow crew members Martin Milligan, 26, John Murphy, 22, David Lyons, 17, and Wesley Jolly, 17, also perished.

There were scenes of anger and bewilderment as Acting Deemster Andrew Moran QC threw out the proceedings.

Mr Gidney had been accused of allowing the scallop dredger to go to sea in a dangerously unseaworthy state

But the judge claimed the prosecution lawyers had failed to provide evidence that the accused showed negligence.

Grieving John and Elizabeth Milligan, Martin's parents, claimed last night their hopes of justice had been shattered.

Fish plant worker Mr Milligan, 55, said: "I just feel numb. This big question that's been hanging over our lives for the past five years is never going to go away.

"Why did our son die?"

And Mrs Milligan, 53, added: "I'm very, very angry. Of course he (Mr Gidney) is partly to blame because it was his boat.

"But he's got off scot-free. We've lost a son, he lost a boat and he'll get his insurance money. What can we do?"

Martin, of Garlieston, Dumfries and Galloway, died with his crewmates when the 69-foot vessel went down as it raced for shelter on January 11, 2000.

The Manx Government spent more than pounds 1m recovering the men's bodies from the seabed, 11 miles off the island's east coast.

It also salvaged the wreck, allowing police unique opportunities for forensic investigation.

Five weeks of painstaking evidence was presented at the High Court in Douglas, Isle of Man, alleging the ship put to sea with a catalogue of serious faults.

The jury was told it had a broken flood alarm, was missing a deck cover for two years and that a bilge pump to clear floodwater was broken.

Watertight doors, which should have been locked, were tied open, it was claimed. Jurors were told the Kirkcudbright-registered vessel had a history of flooding.

But Mr Moran ended the trial after hearing Mr Gidney showed "proactive and safety conscious conduct" following a flood on the Harvester's sister ship.

He added: "The evidence put before the jury is insufficient to establish that there was any lack of care, particularly regarding what was the common and accepted practice of the vessels at the time."

Elizabeth Mills, mother of skipper Craig, told outside court how she feared the torment would continue of people blaming her son for the tragedy.

After being cleared, Mr Gidney, of Gatehouse-of-Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway, said: "What is sad is that after all this time we are still none the wiser as to what happened with the Solway Harvester."

CAPTION(S):

NO CASE: Gidney, the boat owner; MYSTERY: Solway Harvester went down with its crew of seven; Wesley JollyDavid Lyons; Martin Milligan; John Murphy; Robin Mills; Craig Mills; David Mills
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 19, 2005
Words:546
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