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Parents of drowned girl call for tougher regulations on speedboats

The parents of a teenage girl who drowned when her ill-fitting buoyancy aid snagged on a speedboat as it capsized have called for tougher safety regulations for leisure crafts.

Emily Gardner, 14, from Gloucester, was pulled unconscious from the water near Brixham Harbour by lifeboat crews after being trapped underwater for 25 minutes.

She had been taken on the 16ft vessel by Paul Pritchard - the father of her 15-year-old best friend Holly - in the south Devon fishing town on May 2 last year.

The boat left the harbour at 11.34am and overturned as it hit open water just eight minutes later after being hit by a wave measuring up to 6ft.

A strap on the adult sized extra-large buoyancy aid Emily was wearing became snagged on a cleat of the speedboat - trapping her underneath the surface.

Lifeboat crews managed to free the schoolgirl 25 minutes later after wincing up the 26-year-old Fletcher 155 speedboat but she was pronounced dead at hospital.

Following a two-day hearing, a jury found Emily died because the webbing strap of her ill-fitting buoyancy aid became entangled in the cleat.

Emily's mother Deborah and father Clive, speaking after the Torquay inquest, said they would campaign for the introduction of Emily's Law to improve safety standards.

"It is something no parent should ever encounter," Mrs Gardner said.

"We are devastated at the loss of our beautiful daughter in such tragic circumstances that could have possibly been avoided had there been more safety precautions in place.

"It is very frustrating that we have experience of losing our daughter and that there are no laws."

The family are calling for greater awareness of training courses and of boats built before the Recreational Craft Directive of 1996, which set minimum standards.

They will campaign for mandatory training and licenses for drivers of power boats with certain speeds or powers and for passengers to have well-fitting life jackets or buoyancy aids.

Mr Gardner pointed out that his daughter had been allocated a buoyancy aid to fit a chest of 45-50in when her chest measured 32-34in.

"That buoyancy aid that Emily had on was too big for a person of my size and Emily was small for her age," he added.

Mr Pritchard had taken Emily to Brixham the night before the tragedy, along with his daughter Holly and her friend Gemma Gadsden.

They had breakfast in a cafe overlooking the harbour the following morning and decided to visit a cove a few miles away in the speedboat.

CCTV images show the group of four getting into the boat at 11.34am and sailing out of the harbour.

Philip Marr, who co-purchased the £1,800 boat with Mr Pritchard from eBay in August 2014, and his son Luke Holland-Bowyer joined on jet skis.

Just two minutes after entering the open water, the boat was hit by a wave that came "out of nowhere", Mr Holland-Bowyer said.

"The wave totally blocked my view of them all so it must have been big," he said.

"It was like a hill of blue. I stopped the jet ski thinking 'where has everyone gone?'."

Mr Pritchard, Holly and Gemma managed to escape from the boat but Emily could not be freed.

A 15-minute video of the incident, described as "extremely stressful" by the coroner, showed lifeboat crews rescuing the schoolgirl from the stricken boat.

Emily was carried from the lifeboat to a waiting ambulance and transferred to Torbay Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Devon and Cornwall Police, which investigated with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, found no criminal offences had been committed.

Ian Arrow, senior coroner for Plymouth, South Devon and Torbay, will consider Emily's family's request to write a prevention of future deaths report.

The jury found Emily had been wearing an "ill-fitting buoyancy aid with a missing strap" which became entangled on the cleat at the rear of the boat.

Members of the jury wept as Emily's family paid tribute to her at the conclusion of the hearing, describing her as the "sparkle" in their eyes.

Richard Langton, from Slater and Gordon who represent the Gardner family, said there was no legal requirement for passengers to wear life jackets.

Requirements for speedboat driver licences in the UK should be addressed, as well as education for buyers of older boats, he added.

"At present anyone can go out and buy, in ignorance, a death-trap speedboat which doesn't comply with modern safety regulations," he said.

"This ridiculous situation means that people who want to participate in an activity, which is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people, can place others' lives in jeopardy."

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