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."

News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall has become the eighth celebrity to leave Strictly Come Dancing
tv
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
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

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin