Bodged DIY blamed for Leyland mum and daughter’s deaths on Windermere

Lauren Thornton, 10, and her mother Kelly Webster, 36, both from Leyland, who died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning while on a boating holiday in Windermere in the Lake District
Lauren Thornton, 10, and her mother Kelly Webster, 36, both from Leyland, who died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning while on a boating holiday in Windermere in the Lake District
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ALL boats should be fitted with carbon monoxide alarms and users should be warned about doing DIY on boats.

That’s the advice from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) following an investigation into the deaths of Leyland mum and daughter Kelly Webster and Lauren Thornton.

The pair were overcome with carbon monoxide fumes shortly after lunchtime on April 1, 2013, during a trip to the Lake District.

A report published this week by the MAIB reveals that the portable generator which was the source of the emissions had been removed the previous winter and re-installed the day before their deaths.

The report states: “Portable generators are usually supplied with warnings that they should not be used in enclosed spaces or be modified. The installation of the portable generator into the engine bay indicate that these warnings, if supplied in this case, were not heeded.”

Kelly and Lauren were spending the night on board a private yacht called Arniston on Lake Windermere, along with the boat’s owner.

They attended a birthday celebration with friends the night before the accident.

The report reads: “At about 11.30pm, Arniston’s owner returned on board his boat, accompanied by Kelly and Lauren. He had consumed more alcohol than usual but he was not drunk.

“Once on board, the generator was turned off, and the owner, Kelly and Lauren went to their beds.

“The following morning, all three woke up feeling sick and suffering with headaches. Both the owner and Lauren were physically sick; the owner attributed his illness to the over-consumption of alcohol.”

At around 1pm, the boat’s owner walked to a fish and chip shop and bought lunch for the family, while Kelly and Lauren stayed on the boat.

The group ate their lunch and shortly after, the man fell asleep at the table.

The report reads: “When he awoke, he felt very unwell; his fingers were numb and he had pains in his chest. He was extremely disorientated and was not fully conscious.

“He struggled onto the upper deck and laid down on the seating area to recover.

“After an unknown period of time the owner started to feel better and he made his way back down below.

“Kelly and Lauren were both inside and appeared unconscious. Neither Kelly nor her daughter responded to attempts to wake them.”

Police and paramedics were on the scene within minutes.

Kelly and Lauren were taken to Lancaster Royal Infirmary, but were pronounced dead at 5.55pm.

The level of carboxyhemoglobin was 48.5 per cent in Kelly’s system, 53.6 per cent in Lauren’s, and 16 per cent in the man’s.

Following the tragedy, the MAIB is advising that all new recreational boats should be fitted with carbon monoxide sensors, and has issued a warning about the dangers of DIY.

It says: “During the course of the MAIB investigation into this accident, it was found that a number of boat owners on Windermere had installed portable generators in enclosed spaces.

“Many had installed the generators themselves. DIY work is very popular in the marine leisure sector and is seen as an enjoyable part of boat ownership. It also helps to reduce the costs of running and maintaining a boat.

“Nonetheless, there are numerous systems on board boats that, regardless of a boat owner’s engineering and mechanical skills, should only be installed, maintained or modified by a qualified marine engineer.”

The investigation found that the generator had been removed the previous winter for a silencer to be added ready for the 2013 boating season, following “light-hearted comments from other lake users regarding the noise created by the generator during 2012”.

The ‘Webasto’ silencer was specifically designed for use with ‘Webasto’ 5kW diesel heaters and was not approved for any other application, the report said.

The silencer had become detached from the generator, and the portable generator’s engine exhaust fumes filled the engine bay and spread through gaps in an internal bulkhead into the aft cabin, where Kelly and Lauren were sleeping.

The report states: “The generator’s external exhaust system had failed catastrophically, causing the generator to vent directly into the engine bay instead of outside.”

It adds: “Although the owner installed the generator in an enclosed space, and subsequently modified its exhaust, it is evident that he foresaw and tried to mitigate some of the potential adverse consequences of his actions.

“These included: the fitting of fans in the engine bay; the testing of the generator at home with the silencer attached; and, the connection of the exhaust to a through-hull fitting to ensure that the exhaust gases were expelled into the open air. Nonetheless, several safety-critical issues were overlooked.”

The family was not alerted to the danger because two carbon monoxide sensors fitted to the boat were seven years out of date, and had been disconnected from the power supply.

“It has not been possible to determine when the detectors were disconnected,” the report said.

“However, anecdotal evidence indicates that CO alarms are typically disconnected because they activate as a result of their deteriorating condition.”

l A 41-year-old Leyland man has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter by negligence, and is due to face trial in October.