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THE ABERAVON DISASTER. _..------

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THE ABERAVON DISASTER. TWENTY-FOUR PERSONS DROWNED. BOATMEN ACQUITTED OF MAN- SLAUGHTER. When the Glamorganshire Assizes were re- sumed before Mr Justice Richard Henn Collins, :n the Crown Court, Town-hall, Cardiff, yes- terday, the case involving a. charge of manslaughter arising out of the boating accident at Aberavon in August last, when over 20 j persons. hailing chiefly from the Rhondda Galley, were drowned, was called. The prisoners hargpd were twovoungmen named Win. Bath find John BLttii, of Abernvon, the boatmen on the occasion of the fatal cruise, and the indictment accused them of "Feloniously kilting and slaying Gwenllian Llewellyn, Margaret Harris, Cecilian Hopkins, and twenty-one other persons at Aber- avon in August last. Both men surrendered to 'sheir bail, and in answer to the charge pleaded flot guilty. Mr Rltv,, Williams appeared for the prosecti- tion, and Mr S. T. Evans, M.P., for the defence. Mr Williams, in opening the cas°, "aid that on August Bank Holiday, the 7Mi, 24 met their deaths by the unletting of a boat at Aberavon, a, tragedy which was, ne thought, ons of the most appalling of its kind that had ever happened in this country. In this part of the country people â were only too familiar with the details of colliery accidents but in those cases the men went down the pits knowing and accepting the risks. In this oating case, however, the victims were members of a Sunday School party, who had gone to the seaside for a holiday, and were induced by the prisoners to go into a boat thinking there was tio risk in putting themselves in charge of the men whom they presumed-from the fact that those men were plying for hireâ to be capable boatmen. It was in the afternoon that the disaster took place. The people were invited into the boat by Win. Bath, who told them the fare was 3d. The boat was only 20 feet that the disaster took place. The people were invited into the boat by Win. Bath. who told them the fare was 3d. The boat was only 20 feet Jong, 5 feet à inches wide, and 2 feet 6 inches deep, and into this boat the men put 34 people, Who, with their own selves, made 36 altogether whereas he would prove by expert evidence that the vessel was capable of carrying only 16 persons and that only in smooth water. Before the boat put off someone asked William Bath how many the boat would hold and he replied that it would take 30. Trusting, therefore, to the experience of the prisoners, the party got into the boat and started to go out to sea. Could It be believed that those two men, whom the un- fortunate peopiethought we; ecompetent boatmen, were not boatmen at al! but tinp!aters,and who con- fessed when arrested hy the police that they knew 7ery little of boating matters. The boat with its ill-fated burden proceeded so sea, and he would show that the weight of the persons in it depressed it so deepiy in the water that the surface of the water was only a few inches from the gunwale. That fact alone ought, he thought, to have shown the prisoners that there was great danger in taking that number of persons out and they were gui 1 ty of culpable negligence in allowing those people to get into the boat. But that fact did not seem to have deteren the prisoners in any way, so determined were they to earn as much money as jxjssible and reap as rich a harvest as they could from the excursionists. It was hard to conceive how people could arrive at such a pitch of recklessness, especially considering that the men had previously been warned by the captain of a tugboat. That too was at a time when the sea was smoother, because at three o'clock in the after- noon, when the tide was on the ebb, the sea was very much rougher. The two prisoners not enly took those 64 Rhondda people, who were ignorant of boating, out to the smooth water in the lee of the breakwater, but into the breakers beyond, although at the time they passed the breakwater one of the men ulI board asked them not to go any further. When in the breakers ttie culminating point in the culpability and criminality of the prisoners was reached, for instead of proceeding through the breakers into the smoother water beyond before attempting to turn the boat round, they tried to turn there, with the inevitable result that the waves caught the vessel on the side, instead of on the bows, and capsized it. All the occupants were thrown into the water, and 24 of them were drowned, the other 12 being *aved only by the prompt exertions of the people on the shore, who put out boats to their assistance. He thought the jury would jay, after hearing the evidence, that the prisoners were guilty in the highest dfgree of culpable recklessness on that day, and that the deaths of the unfortunate people who had been drowned had been rightly laid to their charge. Mr Williams then proceeded to call evidence. j Evan Llewellyn, collector of rates, residing at Ystrad, said he went to Aberavon on last August bank holiday, and after the accident he identified several of the bodies, including those of the girls named in the indictment. Dr. John Arnot Jones, Aberavon, said he examined 19 oodles at the Victoria Hotel on the evening of August 7th, and the cause of death was; drowning. John Isaac Evans, surveyor, Aberavon, put in ft plan he had prepared of the locality cf the accident. Cross-examined, witness said the Aberavon Town Council had never made any regulations in respect to the bar, and had not licensed any boat- men. Inspector Cole said he was present at the hear- ing of the case bv the magistrates, when an Aber- avon collier, a witness who was unable to be pre- sent, eave evidence. This witness's evidence, which was read, showed I that he went down to tlie beach and saw the defendant in charge of a boat. There were a large number of orner p-cple whoaisowentintotheboat, numbering about 30 in ail. As they got into the open sea the boat began to take in water. As far is he knew the two Baths were rowing at the Janie time. The boat was very low in the water, And if he had put his thumb on the edge his hand wouia nave touched the water. A mason's labourer, named William Evans, laid he went to Aberavon on the 7th August, on a Sunday-school treat. They got into the boat, after bargaining with toe defendants for a ride to the breakwater at the rate of 3d per head. He imagined that there were from 23 to 24 persons in the boat. They shoved off, but he could not see exactly how many paople were in. Wi t- ness rowed the fourth oar until it was taken up by William Bath. They rowed to beyond the break- water, about 120 yards from the end. When ;he boat upset th-y would be a i)ou b fourteen to fifteen yards from the end of Jhe breakwater There were no breakers o the lee of the breakwater, but after witness had 'topped rowing the got among breakers. The tide va- running out, and the boatman, after Joing a J1 r,tle way beyond, said be would turn round. Witness asked him, in an undertone, Ars you going to turn hare ?" but in answer to tho question he only told the rrail who had the other oar to back water. John Bath was steer- ing the boat at the time, and pulled the tiller round. The boat turned round in about a length and a half, when it was caught by a swell. It reeled over slightly, and the passengers went with it. Several of them were standing up, there not being room enough to 3it down, and the boat immediately capsized. As far as he could see there was no )m for the passengers to rush across the boat. ) Witnest3 considered io was, a risky j"b to take he large mmllH>r of pÃ"t''5onil out m a boat like Jhat. Ile eci- dereci it an izriproper thing to turn he boat at tha place it was turned. It was a very dangerous proceeding. When witness was thrown into the water he was saved by a boat, there being eleven saved alto- gether. Amongst those who were picked up were Harry Gaie, Caidnay, Cecilin, and Catherine Jane Hopkins, David William Brimvood, and the two prisoners. Gross exammed by Mr S. G. Evans Many of ihese people in the boat were very young, witness himself being the biggest in the load. When he lald he was 150 yards from the break- water, he did not mean they were that distance frea. it. They were only fourteen yards beyond it. Witness did not claim to be lon experienced boatman, but lie was a ship's cook in the Royal Navy. About three lengths ci. the boat from the spot where they turned, Caldrav said to the defendants, Let's go ont a long way, as we did this morning," And Bath said, If you make the money up to 10s I'll stay a lung time on the lee of the breakwater." There was nothing to indicate the dangerous character of the place, and if the wave had not eoine just at the time they turned they would not have capsized. He himself, when he saw the wave approaching, observed Here's a swamper. The passengers leaned wita the boat. If they had leaned against the boat the accident would not have happened. â¢By a Juror He had had experience as a boy assisting watermen. The Judge When did yon first begin to think it was dangerous ? Witness When we began to turn round. Before the boat had begun to turn ?âYes. Catht-rine Jane Hopkins, a little girl living at 'Ystrad. said she went down to Aberavon on the- 2nd August last. A large number of people, in- cluding herself, went out on the sea. Thomas Ace, captain of the steam tug Mar- garet, living at Port Talbct, stated that he knew the entrance to Aberavon- On the 7th August last he saw the boat in question going out, the tide beins about an hour beyond high water. There is a bar just outside the breakwater, and when the tide is just beginning to ebb there is a heavy sea and a ground swell on. The breakers on the bar were heavier when the tide was going out than when it was going in. There was very little wind on this day, but there was a good bit of wind billow on the shore. He called out to the elder Bath, saying, Wiiat are you doing out, you silly fellow, with that load of people." Defendant made no answer. Witness was of opinion that the proper cargo of the boat in smooth water was 16, but this would not be a safe complement to take through the brt\il.ker.s. Not more than 12 should have been taken through the billows that day. He was of opinion that it was stupid to attempt to turn the boat in the breakers. Mr S. T. Evans Do you say the breakers extended a hundred yards? Witness Yea. And do you say that -an experienced boatman would have braved the breakers for a further 100 fards instead of turning round and coming out ?- That is what I say. Jenkin Bevan, custom-house officer, and princi- pal coastguardsman at Port Talbot, said he had measured the boat and found it 20 feet long, and 5ft. broad. It was certainly too narrow to carry a large number of passengers, and in smooth water h* considarad fifteen a full complement. By a juror Th% bar aS Roxt TaWwfc was a most jeacnejous one. John Snook, a pilot at Port Talbot, said he had known the bar for a number of years. He owned a boat of about similar dimensions as the Baths, and she would carry sixteen adults. This was the number of persons the defendant's boat should hold with safety. He did not think it safe to take 25 persons out. On the day in question the boat, though it was not over-weighted, was over-crowded. With people of knowledge to handle the boat, there should not have been more than 16 all told gone out to wL the breakwater on the day in question. John Cramp, tinplater, of Aberavon, said he knew the defendants, who were tinplate workers, and had no experience of boating. Win. Bath was in charge of the boat. They made two trips on the 7th August, On the latter trip the boat was considerably crowded and several were standing np. Inspector Cole said on the 10th August he took Wm. Bath to see the boat, and he admitted it was his property. He also stated that he had not had much knowledge of boating. Subse- quently he charged the prisoner with man- slaughter, and he replied, "The lease said about it the better." John Bath, on being charged with the same offence, reolied, "It's my brother's boat." Cross-examined by Mr S. T. Evans Amongst those who were drowned a large proportion of them were "in their teens," and many of them were women or young girls. This concluded the evidence. Mr Rhys W lliains, reviewing the evidence, submitted that it was highly culpable on their part to hold themselves up as boatmen, when they had no expe; ience, and were in fact tin- platers. It had been proved that there were 35 people in the boat, with whom they proceeded, with a de- gree of recklessness which is almost 'nexcusable, to a point beyond the breakwater. It had been argued that the prisoners were justified in taking the boat as far as they did because most of the people on board were women and children but he maintained that for that very reason greater care shold have been exercised, seeing that both women and children were generally unable to swim. It was no defence I to an indictment of n-tatisiau ghter that there was contributory negligence on the part of the deceaiied. THE PRISONERS, I THE DEFENCE. Mr S. T. Evans, addressing the jury for the defence, maintained that the prosecution had entirely failed to make out their case. What did the law regard aj the ingredient of the crime of manslaughter? It was" de-cribed as the unlaw- fuliy and feloniously killing of another without any malace, either expressed or im- plied," and it has been held that a culpable mistake, and even some degree of culpable negligence causing death, would not support a charge of manslaughter, unless the negligence was so gross as to be reckless. It was not uivjieiy for theui to see whether there was an error of judgment in this case, but whether the prisoners were guilty of a culpable and gross negligence as to amount to such reckless conii ct as in the view of the law to be considered the crime of manslaughter. On the question of overcrowding, l.e argued that the prosecution had entirely failed to make out their case, and there was no evid nee to show that they were heedless of the safety of their passengers. The only heedlessnss alleged against them was that they entered the breakers and turned round. But he would point out that almost immediately after they had entered the breakers they endeavoured to return. He did not think they would have had the two young men proceed for the distance of a hundred yards right beyond the breakers and then turn round. As a matter of fact the turning operation would have been completed with perfect safety had not the people leaned with the boat when it was lifted to one Mde by a wave. It could not bejpi-oved that the warning of Capt. Rees, urging the prisoners not to proceed further with the load, had ever reached the ear of the prisoners. The occurrence of the accident would no doubt produce an effect upon the minds of local authorities and of people who had the regulation of boating on the sea and at seaside places. It appeared that the town council of Aberavon wera not aware that they had the power of making regulations with regard to the licensing of boatmen. It was a pity, without attaching any blame to them, that they did-not. In conclusion Mr Evans said This is one of the most terrible disasters that one has ever heard, I think, in this part of the country, and no one sympathises more with the relatives of the poor deceased than the two prisoners at the bar. I think I can say that no one has felt such agony for what did occur upon that day than the prisoners themselves. The vpry fact that this charge has been banging over their heads for such a considerable timeâ charged witil wilfully and feloniously causing the death of 24 of their fejl,)w-creatures-li.. been felt seriously by them. I ask you to say that the glooru of thedarkeioudunderwirich they havebeen living for so many months is not the portender of greater evil but that you will dissipate that gloom, and disperse the cloud which overhangs them at the present moment. The Court then adjourned for luncheon. On the resumption, His Lordship summed up the evidence. He said in dealing with this case the jury had nothing whatever to do with the consequences of this d-saster, either as to the regulations which would be made in Aberavon for the guidance and license of boatmen and of the boatmen in other districts. They had simply to say whether or not the persons in the dock were criminally respon- sible for the death of the women whose naines were mentioned in the indictment. The prosecution relied on more than one point of alleged carelessness on the part of the prisoners. The most 'important alleg-ed against them was that they had taken into the boat a larger number of persons than the size of the boat or the condi tion ot the sea warranted; but it was al-o brought against them that they had so manoeuvred the boat as to endanger the lives of the passengers. Aga:nst these allegations it WAS urged by the defence that the passengers had themselves brought about the accident by sway- ing to one side ot the boat. His Lordship (jointed out that the "gligencoor want of skill on the part of the passengers in swaying to the wrong side in no sense could conduce to the exoneration of the prisoners. The jury deliberated for about two minutes, and returned a verdict of Not guilty." Mr S. T. Evaiis intimated that there was also a coroner's indictment against them and at the instigation of the clerk of the court the jury also returned a verdict of not guilty on that. The prisoners were thereupon discharged.

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