NEWS
26/07/2018 16:45 BST

Thames Speedboat Death: Jack Shepherd Guilty Of Manslaughter

Jack Shepherd was found guilty, but was not present in court.

PA Wire/PA Images
Charlotte Brown died in the accident in 2015 

A web designer is on the run after being found guilty of killing his date in a speedboat accident on the River Thames.

Web designer Jack Shepherd had been trying to impress 24-year-old Charlotte Brown after meeting her on the dating website OkCupid.

But their first date ended in tragedy when his boat capsized and she was thrown into the cold river in December 2015.

Shepherd, 30, originally from Exeter, had denied manslaughter by gross negligence but was found guilty at the Old Bailey on Thursday.

It can now be reported that he skipped bail and failed to attend his trial, to the anger of Brown’s grieving parents, who were in court.

Despite issuing instructions to his legal team by phone, police were unable to track him down and his whereabouts remains unknown.

PA Wire/PA Images
Web developer Jack Shepherd was found guilty in his absence at the Old Bailey 

The court had heard how Shepherd had bought the 14ft Fletcher Arrowflyte GTO from Gumtree to “pull women”.

In the months before Brown’s death, he had entertained up to 10 women on the 1980s model, having invited them back to his houseboat in Hammersmith.

During that time, he had been caught speeding by marine police more than once and was advised on the importance of wearing life jackets.

A previous date, Amy Warner, told jurors she felt so uncomfortable aboard the vessel that she asked Shepherd to slow down and then got a taxi home.

On December 8 2015, Shepherd treated Brown to a £150 meal at Oblix in the Shard, where they drank two bottles of wine.

The couple took a taxi back to Shepherd’s home, where they took champagne aboard the speedboat for a trip past the Houses of Parliament.

In mobile phone footage, Brown could be heard shouting that they were going “so fast” as Shepherd drove at more than double the 12-knot speed limit.

On the return journey, Shepherd handed over the controls to business development consultant Brown who went “full throttle”.

Moments before the accident, Brown’s sister texted her: “Is he driving this bad boy?” but received no answer.

Metropolitan Police/ PA
Jack Shepherd bought a speed boat to “pull women”

The speeding boat hit a submerged log and tipped over near Wandsworth Bridge, sending both occupants into the water.

Riverside resident Steven Morrissey told the court that he heard a young man screaming for help.

He said in a statement: “He kept saying ‘Help me, help me, somebody help me’. It was just ‘Help me” – not ‘us’, or ‘her’.”

Shepherd was found clinging to the hull and Brown was pulled from the water unconscious and unresponsive.

Paramedics battled to save her as she was already in cardiac arrest and suffering from hypothermia.

The next day, Shepherd tearfully told police that he had taken Brown out on the river as part of his seduction routine.

He said: “I was just trying to show off about having a speedboat like I thought it would impress her.”

Shepherd told police Brown was going “full throttle” when they crashed.

He said: “My memory is quite hazy about the whole thing because we drank heavily.

“I had no idea what happened. I was hanging on and tried to go underneath the boat to see if she was there and got trapped.

“I was feeling with my legs to see if she was there. I don’t think she was there but I didn’t know. I just started shouting for help, ‘please help, please help’.”

Prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC told jurors: “It was cold, it was dark, we submit, it was sheer madness.”

The jackets had been tucked away, the kill cord was not connected and the boat had a number of defects, including faulty steering, the court heard.

Jurors were told the defendant denied manslaughter on the basis he had no “duty of care” towards Brown.

It can now be reported that Shepherd told his lawyers in mid-May he would not attend his Old Bailey trial in July but the Crown Prosecution Service and court only found out a week before.

In legal arguments, the prosecution said police had spoken to his mother on 27 June and was told he had not been in contact since March and his phone number was no longer connected.

His defence team insisted they did not know where he was even though his solicitor had maintained telephone contact.

It later emerged he had been receiving daily updates from the trial from his legal team.

But they successfully argued that the reason for his absence should be kept from jurors deciding his case and they should only told he was not in the dock and had “chosen” not to give evidence.

Jafferjee said the lawyers had been “dancing on pins” as they debated exactly what to tell the jury, as the defence objected to the words “failed to attend”.

Shepherd is also wanted by police for failing to attend court over another unrelated matter.

Following the verdict, Judge Richard Marks QC, the Common Serjeant of London, read out a note passed to him by the jury reading: “We are concerned that the current lack of licensing regarding private boat ownership on the Thames and lack of clarity regarding safety matters greatly increases the risk of further incidents.”

It continued: “[We] would hope that the result of this case will lead to a high level review of matters going forward.”

Shepherd will be sentenced at 11.30 on Friday morning.