Businessman sobs as he is cleared of killing his friend in boating tragedy

A BUSINESSMAN sobbed in the dock today as he was found not guilty of killing his friend and mentor in fatal boat crash.

Wednesday, 22nd March 2017, 12:58 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:07 am
Aaron Brown

Aaron Brown had wept throughout the trial, barely being able to give evidence when he took the stand last week.

Jurors in the ‘tragic’ case heard the prosecution allege he was ‘showing off’ by driving too close and too quickly to a larger boat while dad-of-one Ryan McKinlay was his sole passenger in a ‘quick and agile’ smaller tender.

Mr McKinlay was killed when the tender, going up to 30mph, crashed into the swimming platform on the £1m luxury True Blue, a 38-tonne Fairline Targa.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The 36-year-old suffered chest injuries and was pronounced dead at St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight, after the incident on June 19, 2015, in Osborne Bay.

Jurors were repeatedly played footage of the crash, recorded by Mr McKinlay’s widow Fran, who was standing at the rear of the boat recording him on the Williams Turbojet 325 on a friend’s mobile phone during the incident.

Winchester Crown Court heard she was ‘hysterical’ after the tragic death of her husband.

Today Brown was wept as a jury returned a verdict of “not guilty” following the eight-day trial. His supporters cheered as the jury returned their verdict after more than 24 hours deliberation.

The footage showed how Brown was ‘catapulted’ ‘literally head over heels’ on to the swimming platform but was largely unhurt.

He denied manslaughter, and his case was the boat was put into reverse, unexpectedly making it swerve left and hit into True Blue’s swimming platform.

Brown had only up to 80 minutes of experience piloting the tender after buying the True Blue, which came with the smaller boat, in 2012 with his business partner.

Mr McKinlay and Brown’s family had holidayed together several weeks before the fatal crash and had planned to do so again.

Jurors were told Brown attended his friend’s funeral and there was ‘no animosity’ with the family.

Friends including Darren Ridge, Brown’s business partner in Whiteley firm One Com, where Brown is chief operating officer, had departed Swanwick Marina at 2.30pm on the larger boat for a gathering.

Havant and Waterlooville Football Club player Lee Molyneaux and manager Lee Bradbury were among those who attended.

Brown had told Mr McKinlay’s widow the ‘wheel wouldn’t turn’ when he sobbed at the hospital following his friend’s death being pronounced at 6.31pm.

Giving evidence in the trial, Brown said at the time he didn’t think he was travelling ‘too quick’.

Breathing heavily, Brown said: ‘Looking back it was too quick but at the time I did not think it was too quick.’

Brown had driven the boat for up to 80 minutes since owning it and had completed a RYA Level 2 qualification, jurors were told.

But Brown said: ‘I was confident with the Williams, I’d seen it before, done it myself, I did it two times before. Every time I turned it the boat turned. I was 100 per cent confident.’

Asked by prosecutor Nick Tucker if his previous conviction for speeding on the water indicated a ‘cavalier attitude towards safety on the water, a devil-may-care attitude’, Brown said: ‘That would be unfair.’

The court heard his conviction related to travelling 25 to 30 knots, more than the six knots limit, on July 5, 2012 in an 8m Rib.

The trial also heard out of 3,000 to 4,000 Williams Turbojet 325 boats built by the manufacturer, no other boats had been involved in such a crash.

During the trial jurors heard from Brown’s own defence, powerboating veteran Dag Pike.

Mr Pike, who built the first rigid inflatable boat, has been ‘shipwrecked’ 12 times and took a boat out at 150mph on his 70th birthday, told the trial he would not have carried out the manouevre.

Giving evidence he said: ‘It’s not something I would have undertaken, I don’t think. I prefer doing mine in the high sea.’

He added: ‘Going close to another boat adds to the potential risk to the operation.’

Two experts, Paul Glatzel for the prosecution and Mr Pike for Brown’s defence, disagree over the speed the Williams Turbojet was travelling before the crash.

Mr Glatzel said the boat was going between 27mph to 32mph as it approached. He said the revs of the engine did not reduce at around 10 metres away from the boat. It reduced to 28mph when less than a second away from the boat, he added.

Mr Pike said it would be travelling at 25mph, then losing 5mph as it went to turn but said estimating the speed was ‘intelligent guesswork’.

In closing, Brown’s barrister Trevor Burke QC had told jurors: ‘It was a very serious mistake, it was an error of judgement, it was a very serious error of judgement.

‘That is not something that engages criminal law to find him guilty of manslaughter.’

He added the trip was not a ‘booze cruise’, and that Brown had a glass and a half of champagne and a bottle of lager but nobody was drunk or drinking to excess.

Mr Burke said: ‘What happened, happened so quickly that it doesn’t have the hallmarks of a drunken escapade on the water.’

Brown, 34, Botley Road, Curbridge, had denied manslaughter by gross negligence.

The True Blue skipper hired for the day, Paul Carey, 52, of Chatsworth Road, Southampton, was cleared of driving too fast in contravention of Merchant Shipping regulations, in relation to earlier driving of the Williams Turbojet 325 the same afternoon.