A man has told a court how he was “threatened” by the family of a diver who perished whilst descending from a charter boat towards a shipwreck.
Neil Plant, 47, told lawyers how he contacted the police after receiving messages from the relatives of 50-year-old Lex Warner, which he said were abusive.
The Court of Session today heard Mr Plant say he was on the MV Jean Elaine with Mr Warner shortly before he perished in a diving accident.
He told the court that he had no safety concerns about the vessel or the competency of the ship’s captain Andy Cuthbertson.
But he said that members of Mr Warner’s family told him he wasn’t telling the truth about his account of what happened on the day their loved one lost his life.
Mr Plant, a critical care medic, told lawyer Robert Milligan QC that he didn’t provide a statement to solicitors acting for the Warner family but co-operated with lawyers acting for Mr Cuthbertson.
‘They threatened my family’
Mr Milligan, who is acting for Mr Warner’s son, said: “Mr Plant, you were happy to give a statement to Mr Cuthbertson’s solicitors but not Mrs Warner’s. Why?”
Mr Plant replied: “I received threatening phone calls from the Warner family, just basically disputing that I was telling the truth and I ended up having to go to the police because they threatened my family.
“It was totally unsolicited but at the time it made me feel very uncomfortable and it was quite upsetting at the time.
“So I just decided to have a sort of a conversation with Mr Cuthbertson’s people.”
Mr Milligan then asked: “So do you consider there to be some animosity between you and the Warner family then?”
Mr Plant replied: “Well, yeah, I genuinely don’t understand why. It was totally unsolicited. I totally appreciate they were going through a horrendous time.
“It was horrible for everybody involved. I fully sympathise – I can’t empathise because I haven’t been in their position.
“But there was no reason for anything and it was very much out of the blue. It happened, like I say, a good few years after and they phoned up reputing to be reporters and journalists and eventually admitted they were the family. They made threats that if I didn’t tell the truth, they knew where I lived and things like that.
“Like I said, at the time, I went to the police and I obviously raised it at the time.”
£500,000 compensation claim
Mr Plant was giving evidence on the second day of an action brought by Mr Warner’s widow Debbie. She is suing the company which owned the MV Jean Elaine – Scapa Flow Charters – in a £500,000 action on behalf of her nine-year-old son Vincent.
The action has been brought following his father’s death on August 14 2012 at the dive north west of Cape Wrath on an unnamed wreck. Scapa Flow Charters, which is based in Stromness, Orkney, is contesting the action.
Mr Plant told the court that he had known Mr Warner because they were both members of the technical diving community.
He said that before the 2012 accident, he had been on Mr Cuthbertson’s boat for four consecutive years and didn’t have any concerns about safety on the boat.
He said: “I definitely got to have a good relationship with Andy.
“I found him to be a good skipper. He was very switched on. There was no sort of messing around. He knew what he was doing. He was very experienced and I think we all felt comfortable – or I know I did – doing the sort of diving that we were doing with him as our skipper on our boat.”
Andrew Smith QC – who is acting for Scapa Flow Charters – then asked Mr Plant if he had any concerns about Mr Cuthbertson’s capabilities as a boat skipper or his attention to safety considerations.
Mr Plant said no. He then added: “I will be brutally honest – if I did I wouldn’t have dived on the boat. I wouldn’t have gone back if I didn’t think he was fit for purpose.
“So, no I didn’t have any concerns.”
He also said he didn’t have any concerns about the state of the MV Jean Elaine.
Mr Plant said he no longer dives.
He added: “ I never dived after that day back in August 2012. I never, ever dived again. I stopped diving and I sold my equipment. I kept in touch with friends obviously but I’ve never been back in the water again.”
Mr Smith then asked him whether he stopped diving because of Mr Warner’s death. Mr Plant said the death of Mr Warner was just one of the reasons.
‘He was a bit of a genius at what he did’
IT company director Paul Mee,49, was also on the MV Jean Elaine with Mr Warner on the day he died. He described Mr Warner as being a “cracking bloke”.
Mr Mee, of Ashby De La Zouch, Leicestershire, told the court he also didn’t have any concerns about safety on the boat or Mr Cuthbertson’s ability as a skipper. He said he had been on the boat several times since the 1990s and was a repeat customer of Scapa Flow Charters.
Speaking about Mr Cuthbertson, Mr Mee said: “He was always, very, very good. The thing is if a skipper in the diving community isn’t very good, you tend not to go ever go back again. Why would you waste your time or money on it?
“It was always very safe and he was a bit of a genius really at what he did. That’s why we went back.”
The action claims that there was fault and neglect on the part of Scapa Flow Charters in failing to take reasonable care for the safety of Mr Warner.
The firm maintains that Mr Warner, an industrial cleaning contractor, had a duty to walk across the deck carefully because of the heavy equipment he was wearing along with fins.
It is contended that Mr Warner’s decision to dive resulted in him experiencing increased levels of abdominal pain due to underwater pressure which in turn led to rapid ascent and death.
The hearing before Lord Sandison continues.