A Birmingham tax inspector drowned in a boating accident because of the gross negligence of the owners of the pleasure craft in allowing it to become seriously overloaded, the city's Crown Court was told yesterday.

Jane Turner, from Castle Bromwich, was trapped in the cabin when the 20-foot boat, called Sweetie Pie and packed with partygoers, sank in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, in September 2003 during a carnival.

Ruth Pearson (39) of St Georges Terrace, Kidderminster, Janice Ward (42) of Four Acres Caravan Park, Worcester Road, Stourport, and Thomas Prescott (48) of George Street, Kidderminster, have all denied a charge of manslaughter.

Philip Shears QC, prosecuting, said: "In the late evening of September 6, 2003 Jane Turner met her death while a passenger on board a motor vessel known as the Sweetie Pie." He said Pearson and Ward were the boat's owners while Prescott, the boyfriend of Ward, was the helmsman at the time of the tragedy.

Mr Shears went on: "We say that Jane Turner lost her life because the defendants were criminally negligent, principally because they allowed the boat to proceed when it was in a seriously overloaded state.

"There were no less than 16 people on that small vessel which, in due course, overturned then shortly afterwards sank by the stern trapping Jane Turner in the cabin where she met her death." He said during the course of the boat's journey, the defendants had been warned about its overloaded state, and allowing people to go on to the cabin roof had seriously affected the boat's centre of gravity.

Mr Shears later claimed Pearson, Ward and Prescott had been drinking and their judgment in taking the grossly-overloaded vessel on a river trip had been "clouded" with alcohol.

He said Pearson and Ward had invited more than 30 people to a boat-warming party and that guests, who were encouraged to bring a bottle, had spent the afternoon and evening drinking.

"You may conclude that there was no shortage of drink and alcohol was consumed not only by the guests but by these three defendants over what must have been a fairly significant period of time."

And he went on: "You may conclude that drink may well have, to some extent, clouded the judgment of the defendants and played a part in the decision to embark on a trip in a grossly overcrowded boat."

Mr Shears said one guest had described Prescott, who had been steering the boat, as a "bit tipsy".

He said the craft had been taken on to the river to a point where the people on board could see a firework display and was on its way back to Stourport Marina when it capsized.

Mr Shears added it was dark, people were screaming, and when a number of people clambered back on board, the boat began to sink.

He said three guests, including Mrs Turner, became trapped in the cabin and two of them managed to escape after forcing open a hatch.

A member of a rescue team saw Mrs Turner in the cabin. Her body was lifted out, but attempts to resuscitate her failed, the court heard.

The trial continues.