Speedboat skipper tells court he lost vision before crash that killed girl

<span>Photograph: Hampshire Police/PA</span>
Photograph: Hampshire Police/PA

The skipper of a speedboat that crashed into a buoy, killing a 15-year-old girl, has told a court he felt light-headed and lost his vision for a “split second” before the impact.

Emily Lewis suffered fatal injuries when the rigid inflatable boat (Rib) collided with the 4.5-metre-high buoy in Southampton Water at more than 40mph, leaving a number of other passengers seriously injured.

Michael Lawrence, 55, who was driving the boat, denies manslaughter by gross negligence, failing to maintain a proper lookout and failing to proceed at a safe speed.

Photo issued by Hampshire police of a selfie taken by Michael Lawrence at the start of the fatal speedboat ride
A selfie taken by Michael Lawrence at the start of the fatal speedboat ride. Photograph: Hampshire police/PA

Lawrence, who served as an RNLI lifeboatman for 20 years, told Winchester crown court: “All I can remember is I came round the turn and straighten the boat up, I felt a little bit light-headed maybe, I don’t know how to describe that.

“Then I lost my vision and then it came back … by the time it came back it was a split second, that’s how it felt.

“I do not know how to explain that, I referred to it as maybe [the length of] a sneeze. I do not know if I might have blinked but as my vision cleared, the buoy was right in front of us, I do not know where it came from.

“As soon as I saw the buoy, I immediately pulled the throttles back to stop the boat. As I pulled the throttles back, I heard a thud, that’s all I can remember. When I next have a memory, it was everything had changed, there were people everywhere.”

Lawrence denied he had been showing off on the day of the tragedy, 22 August 2020. He said: “I have spent my whole life on the water and my whole life I have gone out to show people how to be safe on the water, and I have gone out when it has gone wrong to try to save people.

“The ride on the day up until the last bit was a ride we had done many times, we hadn’t done anything different and was well within the capability of the boat. I didn’t believe anything I was doing was unsafe.”

The trial has heard that Lawrence crossed the wake of an Isle of Wight ferry and the Rib then drove straight at the buoy for 14 seconds before colliding with it.

He said he would not drive deliberately straight at a buoy before making a last moment turn to create a thrill, and added: “I do not believe that is a safe thing to do.”

Lawrence, of Blackfield, New Forest, said he used his judgment to gauge the speed of the boat during the ride rather than the speedometer, but accepted he had misjudged it as the Rib earlier reached 44.7 knots – which is above a speed limit of 40 knots that used to be in place in the area.

He said he did not believe the speed at which he had travelled was unsafe because “there wasn’t any traffic”.

Michael Howley, 52, the owner of Seadogz, the company that operated the boat trip, denies not operating the vessel safely.

The trial continues.