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Seadogz Ribs skipper Michael Lawrence cleared of manslaughter of Emily Lewis but guilty of safety charges, while owner Michael Howley found guilty of safety charge

The skipper of a RIB which crashed into a buoy on Southampton Water, fatally injuring 15-year-old passenger Emily Lewis, has been cleared of gross negligence manslaughter.

Michael Lawrence (55), of Hartsgrove Avenue, Blackfield, was acquitted of the charge by jurors at Winchester Crown Court but was found guilty of failing to maintain a proper lookout and failing to proceed at a safe speed.

RIB owner Michael Howley (52), of Stopples Lane, Hordle, has also been found guilty of not operating the vessel safely.

The damaged RIB (picture: Solent News & Photo Agency)
The damaged RIB (picture: Solent News & Photo Agency)

Both men will be sentenced at a later date.

Earlier in the trial, jurors were told Emily and her family had gone out for a "thrill ride" on Southampton Water with the Seadogz Ribs company on 22nd September 2020.

The ride included sharp turns, figures of eight and riding in the wakes of ferries.

The court heard Lawrence had given passengers two safety briefings at Ocean Village before heading out on the open water.

Emily Lewis
Emily Lewis

Lawrence told jurors he felt "light-headed" before the crash and had lost his vision for a "split second". He said that when he regained his vision the buoy was "right in front of us" adding he didn't know where it came from.

Trial jurors saw video shot by a passenger on a passing ferry of the moment the rib crashed into the 15ft tall Netley Marsh buoy at high speed, flipping the front of the boat into the air and sending two passengers overboard.

Emily suffered "unsurvivable" injuries in the collision and was rushed to Southampton General Hospital where she later died in the company of her family.

Lawrence said he conducted safety checks on the vessel before taking off and he would never pilot a rib in a way that would endanger himself or his passengers.

Howley denied a charge of failing to operate the vehicle safely but was found guilty on the charge following 18 hours of deliberations by the jury.

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