Diver death boat captain is spared jail

Ronald Macneil admitted his failure to provide a standby frogman led to the death of Graeme Mackie. Picture: Central Scotland News Agency
Ronald Macneil admitted his failure to provide a standby frogman led to the death of Graeme Mackie. Picture: Central Scotland News Agency
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a FISHING boat skipper who failed to have a second diver on standby when a crewman drowned in the Firth of Forth has avoided a jail sentence.

Ronald MacNeil, 55, failed to ensure that there was another frogman suited up and poised to help when Graeme Mackie, 31, took the plunge 600 metres off Methil Harbour, Fife.

Mr Mackie, from Tranent, resurfaced in distress before sinking unconscious to the bottom of the estuary.

He was eventually recovered and airlifted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where he was pronounced dead following the incident on June 11, 2011.

MacNeil, master of the “Rob Roy” based at Methil Docks, was sentenced by Sheriff Craig McSherry to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work, and made subject to a restriction of liberty order, placing him on 7pm to 7am home curfew for six months

Sheriff McSherry said it had been a “tragic incident”, though MacNeil had previously had a good safety record.

He said: “It makes it more tragic that Mr Mackie was trying to get a job and make it as a professional diver. It is the case that you took into account his qualification certificates and recent medical examinations.

“But you didn’t have a standby diver.

“I understand that you were diving earlier before the incident took place, so if you yourself had been on standby it is possible that Mr Mackie’s death might have been avoided.

“The fact that there was a fatality is a significant aggravating factor that I have to take into account. I don’t believe that the breach of the regulations by you was for profit – there is no evidence that you were cutting corners.”
The sheriff offered his condolences to the family of Mr Mackie, whose son Daniel is four.

MacNeil, of Leven, Fife, had been due to face trial at Dunfermline Sheriff Court last month accused of being responsible for a series of health and safety failings that led to the tragedy. However, at the last minute the Crown accepted his plea of guilty to single failing – not having the standby diver, who could have gone to Mr Mackie’s aid in an emergency, in consequence of which Mr Mackie drowned.

A spokeswoman for Mr Mackie’s family said: “There is no sentence that could have ever been enough to reflect the loss of a life that could have been avoided. Our family has lost a loving father, partner, son and brother, something that will affect us all for the rest of our lives.

“Nothing can bring Graeme back but we can only hope that what happened makes other people stop and think about the responsibilities they owe to people who work for them.

“Whatever you need to do to keep your workers safe, please do it. No family should ever have to go through what we have had to over these few years. After four years we now, finally, have some element of closure.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com