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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Solway Harvester trial collapses
Solway Harvester
The wreck was salvaged and taken to the Isle of Man
The manslaughter trial of the owner of the trawler Solway Harvester has collapsed in the Isle of Man.

A court found that 41-year-old Richard Gidney, who denied killing the seven crew by breaching his duty of care, had no case to answer.

The men, from the Isle of Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway, drowned when the boat sank in January 2000.

The parents of 26-year-old Martin Milligan, one of the victims, said they felt "very, very angry" at the outcome.

Elizabeth Milligan, 53, from Garlieston in Dumfries and Galloway, said: "The grief is still as fresh in our minds as the day we lost Martin.

"Five years on we can cope a wee bit better but by God, we'll never get over it."

Her husband John, 55, added: "I just feel numb.

"This big question that's been hanging over our lives for the past five years is never going to go away. Why did our son die?"

No-one wanted vengeance, just closure - but my initial reaction is that this closure will not now happen
The Reverend Alex Currie
Whithorn minister

The local Church of Scotland minister, the Reverend Alex Currie, said: "I am devastated that these families have had to wait five years for resolution, and all in vain.

"We'd always hoped that a trial would bring some closure to the tragedy, to the disaster that was the sinking of the Solway Harvester.

"No-one wanted vengeance, just closure - but my initial reaction is that this closure will not now happen."

Speaking outside the court, Mr Gidney said: "What is sad is that after all this time we are still none the wiser as to what happened with the Solway Harvester.

"In many ways I regret that we have not been able to put forward our side of the case.

Skipper Andrew Mills, 29, known as Craig
Robin Mills, 33, Craig's brother
David Mills, 17, Craig's cousin
Martin Milligan, 26
John Murphy, 22
David Lyons, 18
Wesley Jolly, 17

"I feel it would have exonerated (skipper) Craig Mills and the crew in what happened in this tragedy."

The 69ft scallop dredger went down amid high winds and heavy seas while heading for shelter in Ramsey Bay.

The Manx Government spent more than 1m recovering the men's bodies from the seabed 11 miles off the island's east coast.

The authorities also salvaged the wreck, which allowed police unique opportunities for forensic investigation.

Richard Gidney
Richard Gidney had denied the charges against him

Mr Gidney was originally charged both corporately and individually with manslaughter, but only stood trial on the latter charge.

He was accused of allowing the vessel to go to sea in a dangerously unseaworthy state, amounting to gross negligence on his part, which led to the seven deaths.

During the trial at the Manx courts of justice it was alleged that the ship put to sea with a catalogue of serious faults, including a broken flood alarm and a deck cover which had been missing for two years.

The court was also told that the bilge pump to clear floodwater was inoperable, a crucial hatch cover was removed and watertight doors, which should have been locked, were tied open.

I have decided as a matter of law I have a duty to stop this case from proceeding any further
Acting Deemster Andrew Moran

Mr Gidney, from Gatehouse-of-Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway, was cleared after Acting Deemster Andrew Moran QC ruled there was no case to answer after five weeks of prosecution evidence.

He said Mr Gidney had demonstrated "proactive and safety conscious conduct" following a flood on board the Solway Harvester's sister ship.

"The evidence put before the jury is insufficient to establish that there was any lack of care, particularly regarding what was the common and accepted practice of the vessels at the time," he said.

"I have decided as a matter of law I have a duty to stop this case from proceeding any further and I must direct the jury to return verdicts of not guilty."

0130 GMT, 10 Jan 2000: The Solway Harvester sails from Kirkcudbright into the Irish Sea, carrying a seven-strong crew from the Isle of Whithorn
11 Jan, pm: The weather turns bad so the skipper heads for shelter at Ramsey Bay, Isle of Man
1729 GMT, 11 Jan: Solway Harvester's last communication
1747 GMT, 11 Jan: Satellite picks up emergency position signal and a major search and rescue mission begins
12 Jan: The mission is called off at dusk after two unopened life rafts are found
15 Jan: The wreck of the Solway Harvester is found, lying in 35m of water, 11 miles east of the Isle of Man. The bodies of all seven crew members are on board

See the wreck of the Solway Harvester

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