How on earth did driver of speedboat that killed our son get off scot-free?
Last updated at 01:01am on 27th April 2008
After six years of tireless campaigning for justice for their dead child, it was a crushing moment simply too much to bear.
Paul and Andrea Gallagher had invested their hearts, souls and £50,000 life savings in a fight to bring a manslaughter case against the three men they hold responsible for the death of their son, Paul Jnr.
The two-year-old died from terrible head injuries during what should have been a dream trip for the family to the Bahamas after an out-of-control speedboat ploughed across a crowded beach.
But last week, in a stuffy and crowded courtroom in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, the Gallaghers’ world collapsed.
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Three-quarters of the way through a two-week manslaughter trial against the boat’s driver James Bain and its owners Clifford Nottage and Evangeless Williamson, Supreme Court Judge Elliot Lockhart abruptly dismissed the case against them.
He ruled there was insufficient evidence of negligence, even though the boat had been unlicensed, had no insurance and Bain had traces of marijuana in his blood – all clear breaches of Bahamian law.
The couple, from Orpington, Kent, screamed in horror as the judge brought the proceedings to an end.
Mrs Gallagher broke down and wept while her husband shouted at the three defendants and had to be ushered from the building.
“It was like a physical blow,” Andrea said yesterday. “I was stunned. I started shaking and collapsed to the floor, crying.
“The last bit of strength I had mustered up to enable me to come to the courtroom, to face them, was knocked out. I literally had no energy left to hold myself up.
“We thought it was an open and shut case. We wanted justice, but also to make the beaches of the Bahamas safer for other holidaymakers.
“Now the judge has given out a firm message – you can break Bahamian law and get away with it.”
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The Gallaghers were told there was no right of appeal and that the struggle that had consumed their lives since the day Paul was killed during a £10,000 ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ holiday in August 2002 had ended without a satisfactory resolution.
“‘We have come back to the Bahamas several times for inquests, police investigations and preliminary hearings,” added Andrea, 41.
“But this time we hoped we would get justice from a jury. We both found it hard to leave our two other children, Heather and Andrew, at home.
“But we felt we had to return to the place where their brother died to fight for justice to honour his memory.
“We were filled with anticipation, hope even. But as we got off the plane, memories of that holiday came flooding back to me – little Paul digging in the sand, then, after the boat hit, our baby lying on the beach with a big chunk of his skull missing – the sand red with his blood.”
Now they are left with a bitter feeling that after struggling to bring the case to court – but winning support from Tony Blair, then-Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons and a Scotland Yard investigation – they are the victims of a terrible miscarriage of justice.
“We didn’t expect it at all,” said Paul, 43. “Even though I thought throughout that the judge seemed more sympathetic to the defence, we still thought the ultimate decision would be in the hands of the jury.
“Even if the jury had decided against us, we would have been able to accept it. But by ruling that there was no case to answer, the judge took that away from us.
“Now it is almost as though we have had no trial. We feel as if we have been through all this for nothing.”
The couple both gave evidence on the first day of the trial, two weeks ago. Andrea was in the witness box for two hours.
She said: “It was horrendous. The defence accused me of being a bitter woman waging a vendetta. All I could do was tell the truth – that I am a mother trying to do the right thing for her son.”
The Gallaghers realised the odds were stacked against them right from the start of the hearing when evidence that would have helped their case was ruled inadmissible.
On the last day of the prosecution case, on Thursday, defence counsel J. Henry Bostwick QC asked the judge to rule there was “no case to answer”, claiming the prosecution had shown no evidence of negligence – and that the safety of people on the beach at a private resort could not in Bahamian law be regarded as the responsibility of the boat’s driver.
The judge ruled that Mr Bostwick was correct and that, in effect, the tragedy fell into a legal black hole.
Paul said: “If Bain had been driving a car which had mounted a pavement and hit little Paul, he would have been punished.
“That boat was a powerful machine – 200 horsepower – and Bain had no skipper’s licence or insurance and was under the influence of cannabis.
“How can he not be responsible? The men we know are responsible for the death of our son have got off scot-free.”
Andrea added: “I certainly never want to set foot on that island again. But I do think our fight has been worthwhile. We may not have got the verdict we wanted, but we have achieved a hell of a lot.
“Since Paul died, new water safety laws have been brought in to make the Bahamas safer. Now we can only pray the new laws are upheld and no family will ever have to suffer the way we have.
“This has cost us everything: our life savings, our business and our peace of mind. But we felt the authorities wanted to sweep Paul’s death under the carpet to protect their tourist industry from bad publicity.
“We may not have got justice, but no one can say that we did not try our hardest for little Paul.”