Diver's tale of 56 hours lost at sea was a hoax

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The Independent Online

As a tale of survival, Matthew Harvey's account of spending 56 hours missing in the waters off Guernsey after a diving accident offered an inspiring example of human resilience. But yesterday it emerged that the amateur diver's tale had more to do with human imagination after police confirmed that it was a hoax.

Rather than spending two and a half days semi-conscious in a rocky gully after being swept out to sea by strong tides, as he claimed, Mr Harvey had spent that time on the British mainland after catching a ferry.

Guernsey Police, who had issued an exhaustive statement on behalf of the 35-year-old museum worker detailing his adventure after supposedly being struck by a boat, said last night that he may face criminal charges.

Chief Inspector Ruari Hardy said: "As a result of media coverage, a member of the public saw a photograph that identified Mr Harvey as someone they had seen on the mainland at the time when he was supposedly missing. He was not missing at sea or on the coast of Guernsey as suggested. The matter is complex and the full facts are as of yet not established. This is an on-going investigation and we are examining whether there are any possible charges to be faced."

The failure of Mr Harvey to return to his home on the island after a solo dive at 8.30am on Saturday led to a massive search operation when he was reported missing by his wife, Katie.

The search, costing more than £10,000, was eventually called off at 4pm on Monday and his family told he was probably dead.

But in circumstances hailed by rescuers as "miraculous", Mr Harvey was found floating apparently unconscious some three hours later by a passing yacht close to the spot where he had originally gone missing. The tale of derring do attracted international attention with experts musing on how he had survived in 17C waters for so long.

Police said yesterday that in reality the diver had left the sea close to the Guernsey capital, St Peter Port, on Saturday in time to catch a ferry that afternoon to Poole in Dorset. He stayed at an unnamed location on the mainland until Monday afternoon before then returning to Guernsey at 5.30pm to stage his "rescue".

Mr Hardy said: "Within an hour or so of arriving back in Guernsey Mr Harvey changed into his wetsuit and returned to the spot where he originally went diving on Saturday. It was at this point that he was found."

Police said they had "taken on trust" a detailed account of the 56-hour ordeal provided by the diver on Wednesday afternoon - despite first being alerted to concerns about the accuracy of his statement on Tuesday.

The statement from Mr Harvey said he had been knocked unconscious by a boat and dragged out to sea by tides running "like an express train". He said: "I was taken out several miles by the current before the tide reached slack. I continued to swim across the flow, trying to reach the south coast [of Guernsey]. I dragged myself ashore into a gully and collapsed into some rocks and presumably passed out. I know now that I was amongst the rocks in the gully for Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night, semi-conscious."

After spending two days recovering in hospital before returning home, Mr Harvey said in his statement that he wanted to thank personally those involved in the search operation.

Police said the motivation for the hoax remained unclear and that they were working with the diver's family to "ensure his welfare". Officers said criticism on Guernsey of the failure of the search operation, which involved up to 20 vessels and a specialist aircraft, to locate the diver had been proved to be unwarranted. Captain Peter Gill, of the Guernsey Harbour Authority, who led the search operation, said: "Everybody is just in shock at the latest development.

"I've never known anything like this before. I doubt if anybody on Guernsey has."