Jury says collision deaths were ‘unlawful killing’
Two Spaniards who died at sea following a fatal collision were unlawfully killed, jurors found on Friday after a two-week inquest, in a decision that will lead to a review of the case by police and the Crown.
Mohamed Abdeslam Ahmed, 40, and Mustafa Dris Mohamed, 49, from Ceuta, sustained multiple injuries when their rigid-hull inflatable boat was involved in a collision with the Royal Gibraltar Police interceptor Sir John Chapple on March 8, 2020, in Spanish waters.
Before being sent out to deliberate on their findings, Coroner Charles Pitto offered two verdicts for the jurors to consider, unlawful killing or death by misadventure.
He told them that this was a “fact-finding exercise” to establish what happened in the collision that led to the deaths of the two men. It was not to attribute civil or criminal liability to any person or organisation.
The standard of proof in an inquest is the civil standard of the balance of probabilities and not the higher criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.
In this case, a finding of unlawful killing meant that the jury believed it was more likely than not that the RGP officers breached a duty of care to the crew of the RHIB and that the deaths were a reasonably foreseeable outcome based on the consequences of the police boat’s actions.
In his explanation, Mr Pitto told jurors they must be satisfied that the actions of the coxswain of the police vessel, Officer One, more likely than not contributed significantly to the deaths of the two men and that they were grossly negligent and amounted to manslaughter.
Having returned findings of “unlawful killing” in the case of both men, the outcome of the inquest will trigger a review of the case.
“We take note of the jury’s verdict and thank them for the careful consideration that they have given to this case,” said Police Commissioner Richard Ullger.
“We further note that they have concluded that the collision at sea on 8th March 2020 was an unlawful killing.”
“In the light of the verdict, we will support the Director of Public Prosecutions as he conducts his review of the evidence.”
“We will also give careful consideration to the various recommendations made by the jury.”
“Finally, we regret that two men tragically lost their lives in this incident and, again, we express our most sincere condolences to their families.”
The inquest heard that on the night in question, marine officers from the RGP were alerted to a suspect RHIB outside Gibraltar waters by the Spanish Guardia Civil.
Officers made their way to the RHIB in what the RGP officers thought were Gibraltar waters.
A pursuit began and a collision occurred, with the four occupants receiving injuries but two having sustained “non-survivable” injuries.
The RHIB was then towed back to Gibraltar and the injured men taken to the RGP marine base for medical treatment.
Within three hours of deliberating on their findings, the jurors unanimously found that both men were unlawfully killed.
The jurors were invited to make recommendations to the RGP in order to avoid incidents of this nature in the future.
The recommendations were that the police should not act autonomously while patrolling the sea; that crew on board police vessels should wear body worn cameras; and that marine section officers should be required to record all data while patrolling in their vessel.
The jurors also called for day and night vision cameras to be installed on police vessels and for markers to delineate Gibraltar and Spanish waters clearly.
Mr Pitto thanked jurors for their “service, attention and hard work” during the inquest over the past two weeks.
“My condolences to the family and the friends,” he told relatives and friends of the deceased who had sat through the inquest.
“It is a hard and unpleasant situation for you and it is a painful duty to have to sit through court proceedings like these.”
“My gratitude for your strength.”
He also thanked the Royal Gibraltar Police and the team from the Metropolitan Police Service investigating the case.
Police Sergeant Mark Garratt, of the Royal Gibraltar Police, and Detective Sergeant Chris Griffith, of the Metropolitan Police Service, were both Coroner’s Officers in the case.
Christopher Finch represented the interests of the families of the deceased in the proceedings.
Charles Bonfante represented the interests of the police officers involved in the collision.
Neil Costa represented the interests of the Royal Gibraltar Police.