Murder in paradise? Witness says death of British sailor in St Vincent was an accident

Police are treating death of yachtsman found floating in water after boat fire as suspicious

A diving instructor has told how she raced to the scene of a ferocious fire on board a yacht in the Caribbean and found its British owner floating fatally wounded nearby.

Police in St Vincent and the Grenadines have launched a murder investigation after John Garner, 53, a former special forces instructor, was found with severe injuries to his head and legs. Officers said they also wanted to talk to the Briton's Norwegian wife, Heidi Hukkelaas, in connection with the incident on Wednesday afternoon.

But Kay Wilson, a professional diver who has lived in the Caribbean for 12 years, said the scene that greeted her when she and crew members spotted smoke from Mr Garner's 49ft yacht, Asante, looked like the aftermath of an accident, possibly caused by an exploding gas canister.

She said: "My initial impression was that it was an accident. There is the fact that it had happened around lunchtime and there was an explosion on board.

"The injuries this person had was, from my perspective, that something had exploded in his face and he had injuries to his face and leg. I did not see any defensive wounds or anything that would suggest that there was foul play."

The dive instructor added the fact that an attempt had been made to inflate the yacht's life raft and Mr Garner's documents including his passport had been recovered in a waterproof bag reinforced the theory of an accident.

Ms Wilson, who is originally from Bristol, said the Asante, registered in Gibraltar, had been "razed to the water line" by the fire that engulfed it and Mr Garner, who had lived for many years in Norway, had been found floating about 150m away wearing a self-inflating lifejacket.

She said: "We could tell that he had injuries but it was not until our diver got in the water and approached him we could see the injuries and lacerations to his leg and he was very pale. To all intents and purposes, there was nothing they could do for him."

Mr Garner, who was found 15 miles off the coastal resort of Buccament on St Vincent, had been offering yachting lessons and sailing trips around the British Virgin Islands for up to £9,000 since arriving in the Caribbean in January with his wife.

Police said they were treating the incident as suspicious and were looking at "all lines of inquiry". Michael Charles, St Vincent police commissioner, said: "We suspect foul play and will investigate the matter fully. Miss Hukkelaas is a person of interest and as with every murder investigation we have to look at everyone and everything and will leave no stones unturned."

Detectives, who added that Mr Garner had been on medication, said there were no records of Miss Hukkelaas having left the islands. But friends said she had departed two days before the death of Mr Garner to return to her native Norway to look after her children.  The couple had recently been granted permission to extend their stay in St Vincent until 19 April.

Mr Garner's daughter, Elisabeth, 37, said her family were unaware that her father's death was being treated as suspicious. She said: "This is a shock for everybody. We have not been told that this is being treated as suspicious. As far as we have been told, it is being treated as a tragic accident."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border