A land management group has been fined more than £5,000 after an experienced ghillie drowned in four inches of water at a popular angling site.
Dad-of-three James Sinclair – known as Jimmy – died at the Canterland beat of the River North Esk, near Kinnardy Pool fishing hut, on August 31 2018.
Grimsby firm Freshney Developments has now admitted breaching health and safety guidelines when it allowed Mr Sinclair to carry out unsupervised riverbank work.
The charge against the firm stated that it failed to put in place safe practices of work, buoyancy and lone working equipment.
Mr Sinclair, 69, had worked as a ghillie for 17 years at the time of his death.
SEPA assessed water depth to be around four inches
Describing his death as “unwitnessed”, fiscal depute Jemma Eadie told Aberdeen Sheriff Court that part of Mr Sinclair’s duties was to keep the riverbanks in a “clean and tidy state”.
She said on the day of his death Mr Sinclair, from Fettercairn, left his home at 7am and then met a friend for a midday cup of tea.
Ms Eadie added: “At around 2pm, a regular fisherman in the area visited the fishing hut to speak to Mr Sinclair – he noted that Mr Sinclair’s van was parked at the hut but could not see him.
“He continued to walk downstream where the riverbank had been strimmed, to an area of land where the strimmed area had stopped.
“He found Mr Sinclair face down in the water, about one metre from the river’s edge.”
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) assessed the water depth to be around four inches at the time of Mr Sinclair’s death.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service crews from Brechin and Montrose were also called to the incident, as well as a specialist water rescue unit from Aberdeen.
‘He will always be remembered for the great man he was’
In the wake of the tragedy, friends described Mr Sinclair as “a wonderful family man and a kind and true friend”.
A tribute on a JustGiving page set up in his honour said: “A lot of us knew him from the river, he always had time for his visitors there. He will always be remembered for the great man he was. Gone from this world but never forgotten.”
A 2019 investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Freshney Developments had failed to properly assess, prevent or control the risk of falling into the water and that buoyancy equipment had not been provided.
Defence solicitor Mark Donaldson told the court that Freshney Developments “accepted that there is a duty to assess the risk to employees” of such work.
He also described Mr Sinclair as a “hugely valued and respected member” of the organisation.
Sheriff Philip Mann said: “There is nothing I can do or say to lessen the anguish of Mr Sinclair’s tragic death.
“And I would like to give my condolences to his family who is here today.”
He fined Freshney Developments £8,000, reduced to £5,400 due to the firm’s guilty plea.
Mr Sinclair’s family declined to comment after the case.