A helmsman has been sentenced for gross negligence manslaughter for piloting a RIB at excessive speed causing it to collide with a buoy in Poole Harbour.

Morgan George Smith, 21 and of Northampton, appeared at Bournemouth Crown Court on Thursday 20 July 2023 and pleaded guilty to gross negligence manslaughter.

He was sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Tuesday 21 November 2023 to three years in prison.

On the evening of Sunday 1 May 2022, Smith attended a regatta prize giving event at Poole Yacht Club with friends and other regatta competitors including 24-year-old David Haw. During the course of the evening, Smith was seen on CCTV to purchase and consume a number of alcoholic drinks.

Following the event, Smith agreed to take Mr Haw back to where he was staying for the weekend near Sandbanks in a RIB, after dropping off three other people at Poole Quay.

At around 12.18am on Monday 2 May 2022 the RIB collided with a large metal buoy channel marker, known as Diver Buoy, which stood four metres above the waterline and was illuminated. The impact caused Mr Haw and another passenger on the boat to be thrown into the water.

While the other passenger was able to make their way back to the boat, David Haw was sadly not located.

The incident was reported to Dorset Police at 1.59am after Smith and the other passenger had made their way back to shore in the damaged RIB and alerted a resident living nearby.

Extensive searches were carried out in the Poole Harbour area, with specialist police dive teams supported by HM Coastguard, the RNLI and volunteers from DorSAR and Wessex Flood and Water Rescue Unit. Very sadly, the body of David Haw was found in the waters of Poole Harbour at around 1.40pm on Saturday 14 May 2022.

An investigation was launched by Dorset Police’s Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT), working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other specialist units within Dorset Police, to establish what happened. The investigation also worked with nationally recognised experts to provide detailed analysis of the circumstances including mapping, route and speed analysis of the RIB.

Enquiries found that Smith was travelling at close to 30 knots, approximately three times the acceptable speed limit and was navigating in darkness using a mobile phone, which would have compromised his night vision. Personal floatation devices (life jackets) were on board the RIB, but were not worn. In addition to this, Smith was not qualified to operate the RIB in night-time conditions.

Smith was arrested during the evening of Monday 2 May 2022 and following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, he was charged.

Detective Inspector Mark Jenkins, of the MCIT, said: “First and foremost, the thoughts of the investigation team remain with the family and friends of David Haw through this extremely difficult time.

“We have been absolutely committed to establishing what happened and carried out a detailed investigation working closely with partner agencies and marine specialists both within Dorset Police and externally.

“Smith showed no regard for the safety of his passengers on the RIB by embarking on a journey at high speed, across an unfamiliar and congested harbour at night whilst under the influence of alcohol. He was not qualified or trained to operate the RIB at night.

“Further to this, Smith did not wear a life jacket, and did not encourage his passengers to do so either. He allowed Mr Haw to sit in the bow of the vessel, putting him at the most risk of being ejected from the RIB in the event of a collision.

“This case is a very sad reminder of the need for boat operators to prioritise the safety of their passengers and others while on the water and the possible tragic consequences if safety procedures are not adhered to.”

Mark Cam, Lead Investigator at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: “Not only had the defendant been drinking when the crash happened but he had also failed to gain sufficient training to operate a powerboat at night without posing a deadly risk to others.

“This case has tragically demonstrated how alcohol and vessels do not mix, and the importance of getting the right qualifications to stay safe on the water.

“We worked hard to give strong support to Dorset Police’s investigation, and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of David Haw.”

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