CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST UK DIVER
Efforts to extradite a British diver to Malta to face manslaughter charges after his girlfriend and another diver died in an accident were dropped today
The Maltese authorities have dropped all charges against Stephen Martin in connection with the 2014 diving accident. Stephen was charged last July with two counts of involuntary homicide, following the deaths in Gozo in June 2014 of Larissa Hooley, 48, and Nigel Haines, 59, despite the fact a UK inquest had concluded in February 2015 that they died due to a diving accident.
Stephen said: ''I would like to thank everyone who has supported me over the last 12 months – I have been overwhelmed by the support of divers in the UK and worldwide and for all the efforts that have been made on my behalf to get these charges overturned.'
Stephen’s solicitor, Edward Elwyn Jones described the charge as 'bizarre' because it was not at all clear how the Maltese authorities proposed to prove that Stephen had actually caused the deaths of Larissa and Nigel.
Stephen was due to go to the High Court in London on Wednesday to appeal against a European extradition warrant ordering his removal to face trial.
Maltese officilas were seeking to prosecute Martin, an IT manager, because he was the diver with the most experience on the dive in question. The accident had taken place at the Blue Hole near Dwejra.
They were swimming along a submerged cliff 10 to 15m below the surface when, 20 minutes into the dive, Hooley veered off and began descending rapidly. Her friends followed and reached her at 35m. They brought her up in a 90-second ascent. When Hooley surfaced her regulator was out of her mouth, she had turned a bluish colour and was unresponsive. Stephen pulled her onto dry land and attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation which failed.
During the rescue, Haines slipped back into the water and drowned. It is believed his lungs were damaged during the ascent.
Stephen cooperated with Maltese officials’ inquiries and then left the island. An inquest into the two deaths at Brighton and Hove coroner’s court in February last year returned verdicts of accidental death.
Maltese officials held a separate magisterial inquiry into the deaths which Stephen was not informed about nor asked to participate in it. That inquiry found that he had been negligent because of the 'unorthodox dive profile', had not checked the weather conditions and that he had failed to keep a close watch on Hooley. He denies all the allegations. There is no suggestion of any intent to cause either of the deaths.
The Maltese inquiry did not have the benefit of hearing from Dr Peter Wilmshurt, a medical expert in scuba diving cases, who gave evidence to the British inquest into the two deaths and concluded they were accidental.
Both Hooley and Haines were found to have died from immersion pulmonary oedema, a leakage of fluid from the bloodstream into the lungs which prevents oxygen from being absorbed.
In July 2015, Martin was arrested at his home in Littlehampton, West Sussex, by police acting on a European arrest warrant stating that he had been charged with involuntary homicide. He was held overnight and taken to Westminster magistrates court the following day.
Speaking of his relief today Stephen said: 'I am overwhelmed. This has been an utter nightmare for me, and I am just so relieved it is over. I feel I can finally start grieving for Larissa and Nigel, I just can’t keep back the tears'.