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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor