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Accidental fall from Ilfracombe Harbour blamed for Swansea fisherman's death

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

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A SWANSEA fisherman who fell to his death in a harbour while trying to board his trawler died as the result of an accident, an inquest jury has decided.

Father-of-two Jamie Barbeary, from St Thomas, had been drinking in a nearby pub in the hours before he went to skipper the Olivia Belle on October 11, 2009.

It is thought he may have slipped as he crossed the 3ft (one metre) gap from the harbourside to the vessel, hitting his head on a concrete plinth in the shallows 20ft (7m) below.

A post-mortem examination heard 37-year-old Mr Barbeary, who lived on the vessel in Ilfracombe, North Devon, died as a result of head injuries but was still alive when he fell into the water. His lifeless body was found in the harbour the following morning.

A jury brought to an end a three-year wait for answers when they ruled the skipper died accidentally. They said alcohol and the gap between the quay and the vessel were both factors in the death. After the hearing, Mr Barbeary's partner, Jo Lucas paid tribute to the man she said was considered "the best skipper in the Bristol Channel".

She said: "He loved that boat, he loved fishing and he was devoted to his family. He had been on boats since he was five years old, and he was held in very high regard."

The family also expressed its upset that certain details present in an independent report into the death were not given as evidence in court.

Mr Barbeary, who also regularly stayed with his partner and their two daughters in Inkerman Street, was due to leave for the Bristol Channel on the Olivia Belle with two other crew members on the morning of October 11. However, the skipper of another vessel, already at sea, warned Mr Barbeary against heading out of the Devon harbour due to poor conditions.

The fisherman took the advice and left the Olivia Belle at the fuelling berth for the next tide, around midnight. He went to a pub nearby where he was seen drinking from around 2.30pm to 7.30pm, the court heard.

Mr Barbeary was nearly three times the legal drink-drive limit when a sample of his blood was taken and examined.

His colleague, James McAuley, said he was waiting onboard the vessel a few hours before its rescheduled departure when he heard a bang, as though someone had fallen against the boat, but could not find anything when he went to investigate in the darkness.

Harbour master Robin Lawson said CCTV footage showed a man he strongly believed to have been Mr Barbeary walking along the harbour before going to step onto the Olivia Belle. However, the camera footage cut to another view of the harbour at that moment, meaning it was impossible to say from the footage what happened to the man, who had vanished by the time the camera panned back to the boat.

Health and Safety Executive inspector Joanna Fitzgerald also said there were hazards at the harbour, following site visits to the location.

She said there were "various floor-level obstructions", any of which could "constitute a tripping hazard".

The hearing was told some fishermen had identified "quayside access issues" when getting on to some vessels, with a gap of around 3ft needing to be crossed to get from the harbourside to the Olivia Belle when it was moored at the fuelling berth.

Miss Fitzgerald said that some lights at the harbour were inoperable, although Mr Lawson said that would have had "very little if any bearing at all" on the visibility around the Olivia Belle.

Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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