Suspended sentence for 'hero' tourist over Lake Garda boating tragedy

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The Independent Online

A British man who was praised for saving three lives during a boating accident in northern Italy was found guilty of manslaughter.

John Lilley, an oil engineer aged 47 from Aberdeen, was handed a 20-month suspended sentence by a court in Brescia, near Lake Garda, where the motorboat he had hired capsized during a storm in August 1998, killing another man and the man's two sons.

Mr Lilley survived with his two children and the mother of the dead children. The three victims lost their lives while they waited for a rescue operation that never materialised.

Judge Francesco Maddalo said at the end of the two-month trial that Mr Lilley had failed to observe safety procedures. He was judged to have been responsible because he had hired the boat using his British driving licence.

The judge also imposed a 20-month suspended sentence on Luca Peroni, the son of the boat owner, and suspended jail terms of between 14 and 16 months on four police officers who failed to make a swift search for the boaters. Mr Peroni was accused of not explaining the change in weather patterns or safety procedures.

Mr Lilley, who was born in New Zealand, was not in court to hear the verdict but plans to launch an appeal. His lawyer, Paul Rendell, said he was "disappointed, angry and shattered" at the result. "His defence lawyers believe that the evidence presented in court doesn't really stack up for a conviction of this nature," he said.

Mr Lilley was initially described as a hero after he battled for hours outside the capsized boat to save his passengers, whom he had met on holiday. The group had sailed for 45 minutes across the lake when the storm blew up.

Richard Harris, 50, from Bedfordshire, died within half an hour of the boat capsizing. His sons, Timothy, 13, and Luke, six, died as they clung to the hull waiting to be rescued, despite the efforts of Mr Lilley and their mother, Catherine Harris.

The survivors were rescued the following morning by a passing refuse collection boat.

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