A SCUBA instructor from Rustington is fighting extradition to Malta where he faces charges of causing the deaths of two friends during a diving holiday.
Stephen Martin, 55, of Old Manor Road, has been charged with two involuntary homicides by Maltese authorities after Larissa Hooley, 48, and Nigel Haines, 59, died while diving in June last year.
I feel like I’m paying the price for nearly dying trying to save my friends.Stephen Martin, experienced scuba diver
However, Mr Martin, who has been diving for 15 years, insists he is innocent and has launched a battle against the order which says he should be extradited to the island to face the charge, which carries a maximum ten-year prison sentence.
He has faced extradition for a month now and described his ordeal as ‘horrendous’.
“It’s truly horrible to have this sort of thing looming over you,” he said. “I feel like I’m paying the price for nearly dying trying to save my friends.”
The former IT manager, was diving with seven of his friends from the Brighton branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club, based in Shoreham, when Ms Hooley descended from about 49ft below the surface to 114ft without warning.
Mr Haines and fellow scuba diver Jeremy Coster went down to help her and brought Ms Hooley to the surface but she died on the shore.
Mr Haines was then also found dead in the water.
Mr Martin said: “At first no one knew why she went down. I thought she dived down because she dropped her torch but she just kept getting lower and lower.
“Nigel and Jeremy dived down to help her because she started swimming erratically and was breathing rapidly.
“When they got to her she was limp and her eyes where just glaring; there was nothing there. It was just terrifying.”
He described how he pulled Ms Hooley back to shore and tried to resuscitate her.
A German doctor on the beach rushed to their aid but couldn’t help her.
“I just felt empty,” Mr Martin added. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Unbeknownst to father-of-three Mr Martin, Mr Haines was also in trouble after helping to rescue Ms Hooley.
“He had a burst lung through going to the surface not breathing,” Mr Martin said. “But because he was on the surface he looked like he was okay.”
An inquest into the deaths on June 17, 2014, concluded they were accidental, with both divers suffering from immersion pulmonary oedemas which can affect the respiratory system.
However, the Maltese authorities have accused Mr Martin, of being ‘negligent in his obligations’.
They claim he ‘failed to keep a close watch’ of his diving ‘buddy’ Ms Hooley and should have called off the dive in Gozo, due to bad weather conditions.
Mr Martin denies the charges. He said he had been ‘conscious’ of the weather conditions and had abandoned an early dive due to poor weather.
He added he had taken advice from local, divers about where a safer place to dive would be.
“This was a holiday, there was no official leader of the group,” he said. “I feel like I’m being made a scapegoat by the Maltese government.”
A judge in London approved Mr Martin’s extradition, following a hearing on July 8. However, Mr Martin has lodged an appeal with the High Court.
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