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Friday, December 12, 1997 Published at 15:07 GMT



UK

Asumpta deaths appeal fails
image: [ Three crew died when the Maria Asumpta sank in 1995 ]
Three crew died when the Maria Asumpta sank in 1995

The owner and master of a sailing ship that sank killing three crew has lost an appeal against his conviction for manslaughter.

Mark Litchfield, 56, returned from the Court of Appeal to his prison cell to continue serving an 18-month sentence imposed in August.

The three judges dismissed any "lurking doubt" about Litchfield's guilt.

A further 11 people were rescued when the 137-year-old Maria Asumpta - the world's oldest sailing ship - sank off the north Cornwall coast in 1995.

Crown prosecutors said Litchfield set a dangerous course for the ship and made it rely on faulty engines, which failed.

Suzie Macfarlane, the mother of a 19-year-old woman who died on the Maria Asumpta, said: "I'm extremely glad it's all over - the saga has ended."

Relatives of 19 people who died on another ship owned by Litchfield, the Marques, 11 years earlier, also attended the appeal on Friday.

Shirley Cooklin, who lost her 18-year-old son on the Marques, added: "It is heart's ease to see justice being done.

"Twenty two people have died. My fear was there would be further deaths."

Litchfield's lawyers argued there was no evidence of negligence.

But in summing up, Lord Justice Brown asked: "Why should we doubt that the jury had their fair share of brains?"

Litchfield bought the square-rigger Marques in 1977 and sailed it 20,000 miles for a BBC series, The Voyage of Beagle, which told the story of Charles Darwin in South America.

He later bought and restored the Maria Asumpta which made Atlantic crossings.

But an inquiry into the sinking of the Marques off the coast of Bermuda criticised the vessel's lack of stability.

After the Maria Asumpta disaster, a campaign by friends and relatives of those who had died at sea led Litchfield to the criminal courts and jail.






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