Two fishermen who drowned after their boat sank off Newhaven died 'accidentally', inquest concludes

  • Watch: Jackie Woolford, Robert Morley's mother, talks to ITV News following the hearing

An inquest into the deaths of two fishermen who died when their boat sank off Newhaven, East Sussex, has concluded both died accidentally.

The jury delivered their verdicts at the inquests of 26-year-old Adam Harper from Brixham, Devon and his 38-year old crew mate Robert Morley from Pembrokeshire, which were being held at Muriel House, Hastings. The pair drowned when their vessel - the Joanna C - capsized in November 2020.

Captain Dave Bickerstaff was found clinging to a lifebuoy.

The Joanna C which capsized Credit: Boat's owner, via the Marine Accident Investigation Branch

The jury foreman told the coroner’s court that Mr Harper died when the Joanna C boat capsized and sank approximately 5 miles nautical miles off Newhaven on 21st November 2020. The court had earlier heard that Mr Harper had been unable to escape from inside the vessel when it capsized and went down with the boat. His body was recovered days later by divers. 

Mr Morley was able to escape but was unable to keep hold of a life ring, the court heard. 

Following the inquest, Robert Morley's mother Jackie Woolford told ITV News,

"This is nearly two years down the line, and we're going back to day one all the time. So whether this will help and stop it I don't know.

"I don't think we will ever get the truth and get all the answers that we want. It's the most dangerous job in the world but hopefully by doing this it can be a little safer, at least they get half the chance on the boats and they're safe."

Earlier this year, a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch revealed their boat was not stable enough and its life raft did not inflate.

The report also said the accident happened when a dredgebar on the boat became snagged on a line of whelk pots, causing it to heel, or tilt, to the starboard side.

The MAIB’s investigation found that modifications to the boat had reduced Joanna C’s previously good stability and increased its vulnerability to capsize.

safety flyer for the fishing industry, summarising the accident and detailing the safety lessons learned, has been produced after what happened.

The Joanna C capsized in dark and windy conditions, on Saturday 21 November 2020, sending out a distress signal at 6am.

Flowers and other tributes were left at the quayside in Newhaven after the accident Credit: ITV News Meridian

The report said Robert, who was on deck, was thrown into the sea, but the skipper and Adam were initially trapped inside the floating, upturned hull, before the skipper managed to escape.

He found Robert in the water clinging to a lifebuoy and tangled in an orange rope attached to the lifebuoy. He tried to untangle Robert, during which his lifejacket got removed and he drifted away, leaving the skipper holding onto the lifebuoy.

Adam's body was recovered days later but it was weeks before Robert's body was found.

Robert and Adam's families raised £20,000 to build a memorial in Newhaven.

The sculpture was unveiled in Newhaven, on what would have been Robert's 40th birthday (28 April). Credit: ITV News Meridian