Apple farm manager convicted of manslaughter over 'scuba diving' deaths

'Whilst we recognise he is not a bad man and did not mean to harm Ashley, his negligent actions led to his death'

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The Independent Online

A farm manager has been convicted of the manslaughter of two workers who he encouraged to go into a storage tank while holding their breath.

Andrew Stocker will be sentenced on 1 July for encouraging the practice dubbed "scuba diving", which involved the men entering the nitrogen-filled apple container where the oxygen level was 1 per cent, through a small hatch in the roof.

Scott Cain, 23, and Ashley Clarke, 24, suffocated in the container while Mr Stocker was on holiday in the Maldives, having left instructions.

The farm assistants were found lying on crates of apples by colleagues and paramedics who attempted to revive them unsuccessfully, and both were declared dead at the scene.

Stocker, 57, of The Links, Whitehill, Bordon, Hampshire , who was the manager of the fruit farm at Conservative peer Lord Selborne's Hampshire estate, had denied manslaughter but admitted exposing the men to a risk of death.

Mark Dennis QC, prosecutor, said anyone entering the unit would "die immediately" once they ran out of air.

The apples, stored for preservation in nitrogen gas, were to be entered in the Marden Fruit Show in Kent, and Mr Dennis said they were not retrieved as per accepted practice in the – using  a net to hook out the fruit.

Mr Dennis said: "Andrew Stocker was a keen participant in this competition and took pride in his entries.

"Financial prizes were very modest; however, it was the kudos of winning that was more important.

"The defendant knew that the only way the best samples could be gathered is for someone to enter from the top hatch and make a selection of fruit."

Mr Cain was engaged and had a young child, having worked at Blackmoor estate since 2009 as a pack house assistant. Mr Clarke, also engaged, had been working as an assistant checking the quality of fruit for eight months.

Ian and Sharon Clarke, Mr Clarke’s parents, described the trial as "emotionally draining."

A statement from the parents said "collecting apples from confined atmosphere units with virtually no oxygen" was not a "safe and acceptable practice."

"Whilst we recognise he is not a bad man and did not mean to harm Ashley, his negligent actions led to his death.

"We as a family... will be serving a life sentence as we try to come to terms with the loss of a son and brother who we shall never see again."