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Brit soldier drowned because hydro firm forgot warning

The manslaughter case in Austria over the death of a British soldier drowned during a rafting accident has ended with the raft guide accused of negligence being acquitted.

Private John Lomas, of the Royal Logistics Corps, was with comrades in Tirol when his inflatable raft boat capsized on June 21.

Three rafts, carrying a total of 20 British servicemen, had embarked down the Inn river.

Shortly after leaving the launching station at Fließ, one of the boats was capsized by a wave – tipping its occupants into the fast-flowing water.

Pte Lomas, aged 22, of Meir, lost his grip on the raft and was swept away by the current. His body was reportedly found two miles away.

Four other soldiers were rescued and another two scrambled to safety.

Prosecutors accused the 33-year-old guide of manslaughter saying he had made a succession of errors that were reckless and showed no consideration for the lives of those in his care.

The man, not named for legal reasons, denied the allegations.

The court case centred around how comprehensive the security advice was before the group set off. The guide said that he had told people how to behave and what to do in an emergency.

The British servicemen that were in the boat that had turned over confirmed they had been given instructions in English, at which point the victim had said that he wasn't a very good swimmer despite the fact that he had managed to pass a swimming test earlier in the year which was compulsory in the British Army.

The guide said he had offered the man who later died the chance to stay on the banks of the river but the had declined. Instead he decided to sit next to the guide in the boat.

Although the river was at a high level the guide said that it was actually easier to travel along when the water levels were high. The court also heard that in Tirol in contrast to other provinces in Austria there was no requirement for the rafting group to do any practice in easy water before setting off to the more turbulent parts of the river.

The court also heard that the water levels had not been excessive when they set off and that the water had not been the muddy colour it turned shortly after when water from a reservoir released arrived as a huge wave. Although the local fisheries had been warned the electicity firm that operated the damn had not told the rafting company.

The three British army soldier witnesses confirmed that the security talk had been comprehensive and everything had been covered.

Judge Norbert Hofer told the man "It is clear that you were travelling correctly in the boat although the speed was a bit slow although you cannot be responsible for that. According to my opinion I don't think you could have done anything differently."

The court also heard that every guide makes a personal decision based on the crew and the fact that all of those on board were soldiers from the British army and were therefore physically fit and healthy and would follow orders quickly meant that the guide had decided there was not likely to be any excessive problems.

About 100,000 tourists a year take advantage of rafting trips in the Austrian province of Tirol - and local tourism officials maintain strict safety standards with regular inspections of the boats.

Marcel Pachler, who is in charge of the local Tyrol rafting Association, said that the route had a danger rating between three and four out of a possible six which would be the maximum.

The prosecution is considering whether to appeal the decision.

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