Relief for diver after tourist isle drops case

Stephen Martin, of Rustington, cleared of a charge of causing the death of two divers, one of them his girlfriend Larissa Hooper (pictured)
Stephen Martin, of Rustington, cleared of a charge of causing the death of two divers, one of them his girlfriend Larissa Hooper (pictured)
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SIX months of a ‘painful nightmare’ are over for a diving instructor who was accused of causing the deaths of his girlfriend and another close friend on a diving holiday in Malta.

Stephen Martin, 55, a member of Shoreham-based Brighton Sub Aqua Club, had to wear an electronic tag, report to a police station three times a week and keep a night curfew after Maltese authorities charged him with two counts of involuntary homicide and began extradition proceedings.

But on Monday, two days before his extradition appeal was due to be heard in the High Court, Mr Martin, of Old Hall Road, Rustington, was told that the charges had been dropped.

“It’s bitter-sweet for me,” said father-of-three Mr Martin, who works in IT, and was devastated by the deaths of his girlfriend Larissa Hooper, 48, from Aylesbury and Nigel Haines, 59, of Hove.

“Two close friends of mine have died. It was unnecessary to point the finger at someone for being negligent. It was a complete travesty. I nearly died myself.”

He admitted ‘weeping tears of relief’ on hearing the charges had been dropped. “I feel I can finally start grieving for Larissa and Nigel, I just can’t keep back the tears.”

The charges were brought despite an inquest in the UK in February, 2015 finding the two deaths were accidental.

“After the inquest, I thought that was it,” he said. But five months later, Malta issued a European Arrest Warrant for him. Police called at his home and took him to Centenary House, Durrington, to spend the night in the cells, before being taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court for the extradition hearing.

Supported by the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC), he had a solicitor and barrister appointed to fight his case, while his MP Sir Peter Bottomley also lobbied the Maltese authorities on his behalf, and 3,000 people sent emails to the island’s Attorney General, calling for the charges to be dropped.

Last week BASC officials visited the Attorney General for further high level talks and the approach seemed to work, as on Monday his solicitor was told he would face no further action.

He described the deaths of his two friends as a ‘tragic accident’. They were in a group of eight members of Shoreham-based Brighton Sub Aqua Club on a holiday in Malta in June, 2014. Nigel and another diver went to Larissa’s aid when they saw she was in difficulties, but despite first aid on the shore, she could not be resuscitated. Nigel also died following the rescue attempt.

Mr Martin said: “It’s bad enough losing someone so close, but then to be blamed for it, too, is doubly terrible.”

He thanked BSAC, his legal representatives, Sir Peter and all those who supported him in his fight for justice.