THE family of an Irishman who drowned in Tenerife nearly 17 years ago spoke of their "devastation" after the man accused of killing him by throwing him off a boat during a cruise was acquitted.
Garry Walton (21), of Co Waterford, drowned off Playa de Las Americas on November 7, 1996.
Yesterday, a jury in the Tenerife capital of Santa Cruz cleared Darren Sapstead, of Essex, of Mr Walton's killing on the fourth day of the trial.
Mr Sapstead clapped his hands in delight as the translator read the verdict – which the jury said was based on the "many contradictions" in the testimony of two witnesses.
Katie Smethurst, who was 17 at the time of the drowning, told Spanish police she did not know how Mr Walton had died. She later told police in Manchester that she had seen Mr Sapstead "grab him by the knees and push him into the sea".
Her sister, Lucy, who was 14, told police the defendant had warned them against saying anything.
The jury said: "The sisters changed their story many times between 1996 and today, whereas the defendant has always given the same version."
Mr Walton's father, Robert, said last night: "We are devastated, but we will live with this. We just want to get back to Ireland now and try to put this behind us. A guilty verdict wouldn't have brought back our dear son.
"We're still no nearer knowing why he died, so in that respect we're where we were 17 years ago."
Mr Sapstead said the accusation had cost him "a business and 17 years of my life". Speaking outside court, he said: "Justice has been served. I can't describe how I feel now. It's been a long time, but the truth has finally come out.
"I feel sorry for Garry's family. I don't know who, if anyone, killed their son, but it wasn't me."