Kieran Cowan: Boat hire company Loch Awe Boats fined £10,000 for failings which led to young man's death

A boat hire company has been fined for health and safety failing which led to the death of a 23-year-old Prestonpans man.
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Boat Hire company Loch Awe Boats has been fined £10,000 for health and safety failings which led to the death of a 23-year-old man. Kieran Cowan from Prestonpans drowned in Loch Awe, in Argyll and Bute, after the boat capsized in bad weather.

Kyle Cairney booked a boat for a fishing trip with his brother and a friend in the summer of 2019. On Friday 16 August 2019, Clifford Davies from Loch Awe Boats emailed Kyle Cairney to cancel his booking due to bad weather. He stated their “hire licence prohibits boat hire in winds in excess of 18 mph and tomorrow is set to be pretty wild”.

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A Facebook post from Loch Awe Boats stated:“Once again, we are having to cancel boat hire tomorrow (Saturday 17th) due to the forecast for very high winds on Loch Awe……. The upper wind speed for boat hire to comply with our hire licence is 18 mph. Sorry to disappoint, but safety is our priority.”

Kieran Cowan from PrestonpansKieran Cowan from Prestonpans
Kieran Cowan from Prestonpans

Kyle Cairney, his brother Nathan and their friend Kieran Cowan, decided to travel to Ardbrecknish regardless, and an agreement was reached to hire a boat on the condition they would go directly to their campsite some forty minutes away while conditions remained calm and not go back out on the water until the following morning when the weather was forecast to improve.

The three men set out from the boatyard and travelled to the island of Inishail to set up camp. Then, at around 10.30 am, all three went back out onto the water, this time to the south of the Black Isles, where they fished for about an hour and a half. At around midday, they returned to their campsite.

An hour later, the three of them again went out on the boat where only Nathan Cairney was wearing a life jacket. They headed to the top end of the loch towards Kilchurn Castle, which is thought to have been relatively sheltered from the high winds.

Kieran Cowan: Boat hire company, Loch Awe Boats, fined a total of £10,0000 for failings which led to a 23-year-old man's deathKieran Cowan: Boat hire company, Loch Awe Boats, fined a total of £10,0000 for failings which led to a 23-year-old man's death
Kieran Cowan: Boat hire company, Loch Awe Boats, fined a total of £10,0000 for failings which led to a 23-year-old man's death
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It was while they were on their way back to their campsite that the men had to cross the broadest part of the loch, which would expose them to the worst of any weather that they would encounter.

As they passed Fraoch Eilean, both Cairney brothers described waves coming over the bow of the boat and filling it, saying that the water was coming in faster than they could bail it out. It was gathering at the rear of the boat, the additional weight raising the bow and exposing more of the hull at the forward end to the oncoming waves. Seconds after the engine was cut, the boat capsized.

The three men struggled to swim back to the island, but Kieran Cowan didn’t make it. Three days later, officers from Police Scotland’s Marine Unit found Kieran’s body approximately 46 metres from the shore of Fraoch Eilean. The cause of death was determined to be ‘immersion in water’.

Kieran was the middle child in a family of three, with an older brother and a younger sister. He lived at home with his parents and was a self-employed joiner/carpenter. The court heard that a Marine expert later found holes in the boat, which would have been above the water line in calm weather, but submerged in stormy conditions. Obsolete fastenings in the stem were loosely fitting and would allow water ingress.

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The expert’s opinion was that, in the stormy conditions on August 17, 2019, the holes in the stem and the small freeboard are likely to have allowed more water to seep onboard.

Debbie Carroll, of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: “Clifford Davies and Janet Lightbown, in the operation of their business, Loch Awe Boats, fell far short of the requirements of the Hire Boat Code on 17 August 2019.

“This incident would not have occurred had they not hired out the boat that day, as was their original intention because of the forecast adverse weather. Their decision set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the death of a young man.

“Those who hire boats to the public must be aware of their duties and responsibilities, especially when hiring to persons who may be inexperienced when taking to the water.”

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Clifford Davies and Janet Lightbown pled guilty to a contravention of Sections 3(2) and Section 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 at Oban Sheriff Court on 10 January 2023 2022 and were fined a total of £10,000 (£5,000 each).