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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Further twist in the Solway saga
By Willie Johnston
BBC Scotland

Solway Harvester
The Solway Harvester sank off the Isle of Man in 2000
When celebrity chef Nick Nairn met Richard Gidney on the Solway Harvester nine years ago for television series Wild Harvest, the vessel was portrayed as a state-of-the-art scalloper.

But its condition would soon deteriorate.

Scallops were pushed through deck scuttle holes into the fish room below. In 1997 one of two scuttle lids was lost overboard and never replaced. The hole was left open to the elements.

Down below, bilge pumps should get rid of any excess water, but a missing cover meant they continually clogged with debris.

A flood alarm wasn't working.

Former crewmen recall the Harvester as a "wet boat".

Andrew Breen, who spoke to BBC Scotland's Frontline programme, said: "There was always water about the boat. The mid decks were constantly awash with water, at least 4in of water all the time.

"It would build on that and it would go up to at least a foot."

Michael Walker added: "You sometimes grabbed hold of the pipes and lifted yourself off the deck so you didn't get your feet wet.

What is so sad is that after all this time we are still none the wiser as to what happened with the Solway Harvester
Richard Gidney

"It was probably one of the worst boats to be on in wild weather."

On 11 January 2000, the Harvester was fishing off the Isle of Man when the wind whipped up.

The skipper Craig Mills phoned his fiancé Jane Galloway and said the weather was "screaming". He was heading for shelter.

Minutes later, the Harvester sank; its end so sudden there was no time for a mayday.

On board were three members of the Mills family: Craig, whose passions were family and fishing; his brother Robin, who was helping out because Craig was short-handed; and their 18 year-old-cousin David, earning money to go to college.

Denied responsibility

Seventeen-year-old pals David Lyons and Wesley Jolly also perished, along with John Murphy and Martin Milligan.

A £1m salvage operation by the Manx government got the men's bodies back for burial - and gave police a unique opportunity to investigate the cause.

That led to the prosecution of the boat's owner, Richard Gidney, who denied responsibility for the deaths.

We will consider the implications of the verdict and see if there are any lessons for us to be learned
Supt Gary Roberts
Isle of Man Police

On Wednesday a judge ruled that a gross dereliction of duty on Mr Gidney's part had not been proved and instructed the jury to acquit him.

Speaking outside the court, Mr Gidney said: "I can only say what my family and I have been through over the last five years.

"I can only imagine what the other families have been through.

"What is so 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.

Denied closure

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

The families' hopes of closure were apparently dashed by the court's verdict.

Liz Milligan, mother of Martin, said: "You can't step forward, you are just wanting everything to be past and then try and get on and try and get things back to normal again.

"It hasn't been easy."

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

Isle of Man Police said they were disappointed with the outcome of the case.

Supt Gary Roberts said: "We investigated this matter to the best of our ability. We have conducted a very thorough investigation.

"We will consider the implications of the verdict and see if there are any lessons for us to be learned."

But it is not over yet.

The families have already lodged papers for civil damages at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

That is set to be the next legal twist in this long, complex and distressing case.

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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