Skipper goes on trial over tall ship deaths

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The Independent Online
The owner and skipper of what was the world's oldest working square- rigged sailing vessel yesterday went on trial for the alleged manslaughter of three crew members lost when the vessel broke up on the north Cornwall coast.

Mark Litchfield, 56, who was among 11 survivors when the 137-year-old wooden tall ship Maria Asumpta was wrecked as she approached Padstow in May 1995, appeared before Mr Justice Butterfield at Exeter Crown Court.

The three lost crew were Anne Taylor, 50, of Wallingford, Oxfordshire; Emily MacFarlane, 19, of Felixstowe, Suffolk; and 24-year-old John Shannon from Queensland, Australia.

The jury of six men and six women heard that Mr Litchfield, of Boxley, Kent, had pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charges at an earlier hearing. Mr Justice Butterfield, who said the trial could last over six weeks, adjourned the hearing until today.

The charges allege that Mr Litchfield unlawfully killed Anne Taylor on 30 May 1995, and unlawfully killed Emily MacFarlane and John Shannon between 19 May and 25 June 1995.

In each case the charge alleged that as master and owner of the vessel, Mr Litchfield owed a duty to take reasonable care of all those who sailed on her, including the three who died.

In each case the charges also allege that he was in breach of that duty and did not take reasonable care of the crew who died.

It was claimed that he failed to plan, navigate and execute a safe passage for the vessel from Hartland Point towards Padstow, and in particular failed to sail the vessel at a safe distance from the shore.

It was also alleged that he sailed the ship so close to the shore that he had to rely on using the engines to avoid grounding on Mouls Rock, knowing that the diesel fuel was contaminated and likely to cause the engines to fail.