A jury has failed to reach a verdict in the trial of PADI Master Instructor Nigel Craig for gross negligent manslaughter and has been discharged from further involvement in the case, which hinges on the instructor’s actions during a three-minute safety stop at the Stoney Cove inland site in 2016.
Craig, 55, from Northampton, denies the charge, which relates to the death of Richard Stansfield, 40, while under his care on a training course.
The Leicester Crown Court jury was reduced to 11 during the trial after one member tested positive for Covid-19, according to a report in the Leicester Mercury.
High Court Judge Mr Justice Pepperall had given the jury a majority direction, which requires no fewer than 10 of 11 jurors to agree on a verdict. However, after several hours of deliberation yesterday (30 March) the forewoman informed the judge that they had been unable to reach that majority.
The Crown Prosecution Service is now said to be considering whether or not to proceed with a retrial, with an announcement expected next week. Craig has been released on bail.
Earlier in the proceedings, the jury had heard that Craig insisted on completing a three-minute safety stop at 5m despite the fact that his student was having breathing difficulties. Stansfield was found to have died from drowning leading to cardiac arrest in hospital later in the day.
Prosecuting, James House QC alleged that Craig’s enforcement of a non-essential stop had led to the victim panicking and ultimately to his death, according to earlier reports of the court proceedings in the Mercury.
Stansfield had been diving for around a year, had completed 30 dives and had qualified as a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver three months before the fatal incident.
He was on the first dive of the day on 24 July, 2016, on a course organised by Dive Northampton. He was accompanied by Craig with PADI Dive Master Karol Tokarczyk as safety diver. No criminal charges were brought against Tokarczyk.
House said that by the time Stansfield reached the maximum depth of 30m the amount of air left in his cylinder was “significantly below” what it should have been because of the number of times he had needed to stop to equalise.
The divers had completed an “underwater exercise” before ascending, but at around 18m Stansfield had given an out-of-air signal and started to panic, according to House.
Tokarczyk had passed Stansfield a regulator so that he could breathe from his spare cylinder, but at 12m Stansfield had again indicated that he was out of air and unable to breathe. At this point Craig had passed the student his own regulator and switched to his second tank.
The 5m safety stop had been part of the dive plan, but House explained that it would have been possible to miss it out in circumstances in which it was more important to reach the surface quickly.
During the stop, Stansfield had twice indicated that he was struggling to breathe, and within the first minute had tried to surface by pulling himself up a buoyline, but Craig had pulled him back down, it was alleged.
“It should have been obvious to Craig that Mr Stansfield was in severe distress,” said House, adding that the student’s pupils were dilated and that his regulator slipped from his mouth twice as he lost consciousness. Despite these signs, he said that Craig had waited the full three minutes before taking Stansfield to the surface, where all attempts to revive him failed.
House said that experts had described Craig’s actions as “wholly inexplicable” and that his conduct had fallen “far below the standard of a similarly qualified and experienced diving instructor”.
However, Craig denied that he had held Stansfield down, stating that he had only taken hold of him briefly to remind him about the stop. “Had he wanted to bolt for the surface I wouldn’t have been able to stop him due to his size,” he said.
House maintained that the defendant’s decision might have been from a “fundamental misunderstanding” about the need for a safety stop and his failure to appreciate the seriousness of the situation when “the symptoms were there to be seen”.
“No-one is suggesting for a moment that Nigel Craig wanted any of this to happen, quite the contrary,” House told the jury. “When a person involves themselves in an activity, which means they’ve taken on a duty of care for another human being, the burden upon them is a high one.”