A helmsman responsible for causing the death of a partygoer when the pleasure cruiser he was in charge of capsized and sank has been given a 12-month suspended jail sentence.
Thomas Prescott was convicted earlier this month of the manslaughter of Jane Turner, who died when the 20ft boat, the Sweetie Pie, capsized during the annual Stourport-on-Severn Land and River Carnival in September 2003.
Prescott (48), who lives on a boat moored at the marina in Stourport, had denied the charge.
He avoided jail because of what the judge described as an "exceptional" circumstance relating to a defect on the stern of the Sweetie Pie, which provided a "substantial cause" for the death of Ms Turner.
Sentencing Prescott, who was also ordered to pay a #500 fine and #500 costs, at Birmingham Crown Court, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said he and the owners had made no attempt to control the number of passengers travelling on the boat and it was fortunate no one else had drowned.
"The fact is, the boat was not designed well, to say the least. You were unaware of this design defect and I find it was not reasonable to expect you to know of this," said the judge.
"The sentence I pass is one of 12 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months."
Ms Turner, a 45-year-old tax worker from Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, drowned after being invited to a boat-warming party organised by Prescott's co-defendants, Janice Ward and Ruth Pearson, who owned the vessel and were celebrating its purchase.
But the "seriously overloaded" vessel capsized as attempts were made to moor it in the marina on the evening of September 6.
Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said Prescott he had travelled upstream to watch a fireworks display from the river with 16 passengers on board a boat designed for no more than six or seven people.
Prescott had dismissed instructions from a Severn Area Rescue Association patrol boat to off-load some of its passengers and volunteers recalled watching the vessel "see-saw" back down the river towards the marina.
Mr Justice Calvert-Smith told the court: "As it (the boat) slowed to a stop, a young man left the cabin and went to prepare for entry to the marina.
"So unstable was the boat that that single movement caused it to flip over and tip almost all it's passengers into the River Severn.
"Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to you (Prescott), the stern of the boat over which most of the passengers were pulled back on board did not have a water tight compartment to prevent water coming over the lowest part of the stern from spreading and the boat quickly filled with water and began to sink.
"Jane Turner was trapped (in the cabin) and failed to get out before she was overcome by the rising water."
Christopher Millington QC, defending, told the court earlier that had the boat been fitted with a water-tight compartment, it was likely everyone who got back on after it capsized would have done so safely.
Pearson (39), of St George's Terrace, Kidderminster, was cleared of manslaughter, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of Prescott?s then partner, Ward (43), of Worcester Road, Stourport.
Prosecution lawyers yesterday confirmed they would not be pursing a case against her.
The judge referred to a written statement submitted to the court by Ms Turner's partner, Nicholas John, in which he expressed concern about the lack of laws surrounding the use of pleasure cruisers.
Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said: "The only current law in operation in respect of small pleasure boats concerns such things as electrics and flammable items on board but not such matters as lifesaving equipment, lifejackets, or the maximum load or number of passengers.
"These are still left to the common sense of those who take these boats out on the water."
The judge added: "So that were it not for the fact a crime of manslaughter was committed in this case, there would have been no other offence."
Prescott, who used to be a long-distance lorry driver, refused to comment as he left court.