A lying boatman whose failings led to the death of a diver in the Firth of Forth was jailed last Thursday (19 March) after a sheriff said he had “effectively no safety measures” on board the tragedy vessel.

Guthrie Melville (60) was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment over the tragedy, in which father-of-two James Irvine (42), of Glenrothes, died after getting into difficulties in Largo Bay, Fife, on 24 March 2011.

He could have been jailed for a maximum of just two years under the battery of health and safety regulations with which he had been charged.

Mr Irvine’s wife Hazel (42) immediately called for sentencing in such cases to be made comparable with culpable homicide.

Stirling Sheriff Court heard that Mr Irvine, a desperate-for-work unemployed kitchen fitter, whose only dive training had been a two-week holiday course in Turkey, had been recruited by Melville, owner of the 26-foot Solstice, to fish for razor clams.

The shellfish, prized in the Far East, could be sold on at high prices, and a day’s catch could fetch Melville over £2000.

The Solstice, based at Methil Docks, Fife, is thought to have been using an unapproved technique to make the razorfish rise to the surface of the sandy bottom - by trailing unprotected copper rods connected to an electric welder.

The set-up posed a risk of serious injury - only a few milliamps could stop a diver’s heart.

The court was told that there was no way of knowing if this was what had happened to Mr Irvine.

The rods were found and photographed on the Solstice the day after the accident, but when police went back a week later to seize them as evidence they had gone. Melville told officers he had dumped them in the sea.

When Mr Irvine’s body was found lying face-up on the riverbed by a police frogman there was plenty of air left in his breathing tank, neither of his two air-supply regulators was in his mouth, but he had drowned.

After a five day trial last month, a jury decided one thing was certain - Melville’s safety failings meant that once he had got into difficulties, his fate was sealed.

Melville was found guilty of a string of breaches of Diving At Work regulations and health and safety legislation, “in consequence of which” Mr Irvine failed to surface and drowned. It was his first day’s work as a diver.

Melville, of Kirkburn Drive, Cardenden, Fife, was also found guilty of putting five other divers at risk through similar failings over a six-year period between April 2005 and the date of the tragedy. He had denied the offences and claimed that he had been taking Mr Irvine out for “a pleasure dive”.

He even maintained the lie to social workers preparing a pre-sentence report.

He showed no emotion as he was told by Sheriff William Gilchrist: “The court has to take into account how foreseeable were the risks and how far short of the applicable standards you fell.

“It’s quite obvious to me that the risks were clearly foreseeable, and there were effectively no health and safety measures in place - you completely ignored the requirements of health and safety.

“The consequences were extremely, extremely serious.” The sheriff said that Melville had ignored safety requirements on board the Solstice since 2005.

He said: “I can only conclude that this was a most serious and wilful breach of health and safety regulations, which resulted in a death.

“There has been no acceptance of responsibility on your part; you still maintain the pretence that Mr Irvine had hired you to go on a pleasure dive, whereas manifestly you employed him to go fishing.

“A custodial sentence is inevitable.” Defence advocate Greg Sanders claimed since his client had been convicted, he had been subjected to “a litany of abuse” on social media and had been to see his GP about thoughts of taking his own life.

Mr Sanders said: “If it is being suggested he is some sort of greedy businessman, nothing could be further from the truth. His impecuniosity is discussed in the report.” Prosecutor Lousie Beattie said Mr Irvine had been left “truly on his own”, eight metres down in the Forth, because Melville had no second diver on standby to rescue him, no means of communicating with him, and no means of getting him from the water onto the boat in an emergency.

He had also failed to ensure that Mr Irvine was wearing an inflatable jacket, known as a “bouyancy control device” which he could have used to get to the surface quickly, and he had no lifeline.

The only means anyone on the Solstice had of telling how he was getting on underwater was to look for bubbles coming up to the surface, and when they stopped, Melville and his only crewman, an elderly retired builder called Carl Smart, could only panic.

Melville, who had failed to complete a diver-training course he had been on himself, could not even get his radio to work, and had to phone the police to ask them to call the coastguard.

Outside court, Hazel Irvine said Melville should have been treated like a killer.

She said: “I am disgusted with the sentence. He took my husband’s life and he should have gone down for years.

“He should have been treated like it was culpable homicide, because that was what it was.” Mr Irvine’s son Alan (25) said: “Nine months is a joke.” Richard Irvine (39), Mr Irvine’s brother, said: “The sheriff has done his best, but I’d like to have seen him get at least another nine months on top of the nine months.

“For a while I thought he’d get away with community service or some sort of slap on the wrist, so at least this is better than that.

“I hope it sends out a message to other captains who are putting divers’ lives at risk.” Mr Irvine’s daughter Chloe (18) added: “He failed to protect five other men, so if this hadn’t happened to my dad, sooner or later it would have happened to someone else.”