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2005-04-04 00:58:53

Bahamas Silent Over Boy’s Death

The family of a British toddler killed by a runaway powerboat have accused the Bahamas of resisting calls for a criminal investigation because it wants to protect its tourist industry.

Paul and Andrea Gallagher from Orpington, Kent, learnt last week that the powerboat company involved in the death of their two year-old son, also called Paul, had been the operator of the boat that sliced off the arm of 13-year-old Victor Meier three years before.
There have also been two other fatal accidents in the shallow water off the 2,300-room Atlantis resort operated by Sol Kerzner, a South African gambling magnate.

Paul Gallagher said this weekend: “They (the Bahamian authorities) are more interested in protecting their tourist industry than in giving people justice. We feel we have been treated incredibly badly.'

He added: “No one has faced any sort of criminal charges for this or been held accountable in any way. The beach next to the resort is like the Wild West. Watersports are not properly controlled and accidents keep happening there.'

Paul Jr was hit when the driver lost control of a 200bhp boat towing an inflatable raft. Witnesses say the boat, operated by Sea and Ski Ocean Sports, ploughed through swimmers for more than a minute while lifeguards on the beach looked on without using whistles or issuing a warning to people on the beach.

The boat hit the sand and bounced over the heads of sunbathers at an estimated 30mph. As Andrea Gallagher scrambled to push her three children out of the way, the vessel's propeller sliced through Paul's head. He died five days later in hospital in August 2002.

Gallagher escaped with severe bruising. Her other children — Heather, 5, and Andrew, 1 — were unharmed.

Roy Palmer, the south London coroner who last October led the British inquest into Paul's death, concluded that the tragedy could not be classed as an accident. He recorded an open verdict and took the unusual step of writing to Dame Ivy Dumont, governor-general of the Bahamas, urging an investigation and action to prevent similar deaths.

Since then Baroness Symons, a Foreign Office minister, has met the family to discuss urging the Bahamian government to ask British police to investigate the case. She has also repeated the coroner's requests to the authorities in Nassau.

These requests have received no response and last week calls by The Sunday Times to the Bahamian high commission in London were also not returned.

Kerzner, who lives in the village of Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, owns 11 luxury resorts around the world, of which the Bahamas Atlantis is the flagship. It includes a huge casino, conference centre and shopping complex, as a well as a marina, timeshare flats and an elaborate “waterscape' aquarium featuring captive turtles, stingrays and other tropical fish.

In addition he is one of the leading players in the government's plan to bring Las Vegas-style super-casinos to Britain. His company, Kerzner International, has announced plans to spend more than £400m on the project, which will include developing a casino at the Millennium Dome.

Last week a spokesman for Kerzner said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gallagher family. We have done and continue to do everything possible to assist the family and co-operate with the Bahamian authorities, including the Royal Bahamas police force, in their investigation of the accident.'

The spokesman said unregulated companies offering watersports alongside the hotel were nothing to do with Kerzner International, which is lobbying the government for better regulation of their activities.

Symons is due to meet the Gallagher family again this month to discuss further action. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are in close and regular contact with this family. We have raised their case at ministerial level and tried to get information from the Bahamian government about what watersports legislation is proposed.'
The Gallaghers, who run an employment agency for supply and temporary teachers, had saved for two years to raise the £10,000 they needed for the three-week holiday in the Bahamas. The day of Paul's death coincided with his father's 38th birthday.

Since the disaster, they have spent a further £50,000 on legal fees and are in danger of bankrupting themselves in their fight for justice.

Not only were their son's major organs retained in the Bahamas without their consent, but they were not notified of the date of the local inquest, which recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The accident involving Victor Meier, who was on holiday from Utah, America, happened three years before Paul's death.

Two weeks before Victor's accident, 27-year-old Tosha Walker from Maryland was killed in a parasailing accident on the same stretch of water alongside the Atlantis resort.

Last summer, the Bahamian authorities announced they would be issuing no further jet ski licences.

However, Alan Fein, the Gallaghers' lawyer in Miami, who also represented the Meier family, said many of the boat operators traded without the correct documentation.

The unlicensed, uninsured 25-year-old driver whose boat killed Paul is still working. The boat in the accident was neither registered nor insured.

Fein said: “You have to ask yourself why people keep getting killed and maimed there and it seems to be of only passing interest to the police.'

By: Lois Rogers , The Sunday Times - Britain

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