Trawler skipper walks free

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Joseph O'Connor, the operator of a trawler which sank with the loss of its six-crew, walked free yesterday after the Court of Appeal quashed his three-year sentence for manslaughter.

Three judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, ruled that the Crown's amendment of the charges on the 27th day of the trial at Bristol Crown Court last year rendered his conviction "unsafe". Originally Mr O'Connor, 44, from Plymouth, was charged with causing the deaths by gross negligence of the six named members of the crew. It emerged during the trial that the jury would only be able to convict if they found that all six would have died when the Pescado sank off the coast of Cornwall.

A new charge was added which alleged the manslaughter of a person unknown. This allowed the jury to find him guilty if it was shown that at least one person would have died because of a failure to provide adequate safety equipment aboard the vessel which the prosecution alleged was "unseaworthy and unstable". Lord Bingham said the amendment "may well have worked injustice on the appellant".