Killer captain fights verdict

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The captain of the Maria Asumpta, the world's oldest sailing ship, which sank with the loss of three crew, began an appeal against his conviction and 18-month sentence yesterday.

Mark Litchfield was convicted of manslaughter by majority verdicts of 10-2 after the jury had deliberated for more than 14 hours in the trial in August this year.

Outside the court, relatives of victims from the Maria Asumpta and Litchfield's previous ship, the Marques, which sank with the loss of 19 lives, protested against the appeal.

Emily McFarlane, John Shannon and Anne Taylor died when the Maria Asumpta hit rocks off Padstow, Cornwall, in 1995. The jury found that in plotting a course too close to the coast and in relying on engines which he knew to contain contaminated fuel, Litchfield hadshown a profound disregard for the lives of his crew.

But Alun Jones, QC, acting for Litchfield, yesterday told the court that the defendant "had no case to answer".

He said there was "no serious and obvious risk of death in the course than was detected by any of the crew. Not one of the 14 detected any risk to his life or the lives of the crew before the engines failed."

He also said that there had been no expert evidence from the Crown that contaminated fuel had led to the engines failing. The fact that the engines had shut down at the same time could mean that there had been an electrical fault, linked to the "stop both engines" button.

Mr Jones also claimed that the jury had been "in a muddle" when they had delivered the majority verdict.

The appeal continues today.