Widow in speedboat accident admits 'big mistake'
Victoria Milligan, whose husband and daughter died after being thrown from their speedboat in Padstow, tells their inquest she should have worn the 'kill cord'
The widow of a senior television executive killed in a speedboat accident alongside his eight-year-old daughter has admitted her "big mistake" in not using the vessel's safety device.
Nick Milligan, known as Nicko to family and friends, and Emily lost their lives in the tragedy on an estuary at Padstow, Cornwall, on May 5 last year.
His wife Victoria told of her regret that neither she nor her husband was attached to the boat's kill cord - a safety device designed to cut power in an emergency.
Eyewitnesses told the inquest in Truro how the family of six were thrown from the speedboat into the water and watched helplessly as the vessel circled dozens of time at high speed - colliding with the Milligans during the 25 minute tragedy.
Jurors also heard from water sports instructor Charlie Toogood who heroically brought the out of control speedboat - called Milly - to a halt.
Mr Milligan, 51, managing director of Sky's advertising sales division Sky Media, had been on holiday with his 40-year-old wife and their four children, Amber, 13, Olivia, 12, Emily, and six-year-old Kit from their home in London.
He and Emily sustained fatal injuries while Mrs Milligan lost the lower part of her left leg. Amber suffered a cut hand, Olivia a bump to her head, and Kit serious injuries to his leg.
Mrs Milligan told how their holiday turned to tragedy after her husband removed the safety device to use the toilet.
"Nicko said he needed a wee and put Milly into neutral and removed the kill cord from around his leg," she said.
"I went up to the steering wheel and I had always done this to ensure that Kit did not interfere with the controls.
"I stood by the steering wheel and Nicko returned to the bow of the boat and started to play with the children.
"The sea was flat and calm and I decided to drive Milly back to the mooring. I did not put the kill cord around my leg because it was only a short distance to the mooring.
"As I started to drive back to the mooring, the children all called out that they wanted to go around again.
"Nicko then said 'turn right, turn right'. We were not going very fast and I did not think there was enough room to turn. He then grabbed the wheel with his right hand and accelerated with his left hand. Nicko was standing on my left.
"I remember the acceleration was not smooth and it jerked. Nicko had never caused it to jerk in this way before. I remember feeling like we had hit a wall and we all fell out. We all fell into the water. Kit was screaming as I grabbed him and Nicko was telling us to stay together.
"Nicko was splashing about in the water, he was upset. He was saying 'stay in the middle, stay in the middle'.
"I could see the beach and started to swim with Kit. The boat was going around us very fast and I think the accelerator was at its highest setting.
"I was not aware of where the others were but as I swam with Kit the boat came straight towards me and hit me in the chest. It caught my leg and I saw lots of blood.
"I saw the boat speed away from us - that's all I can remember - it all happened very quickly. I thought maybe we had hit something. It was so sudden and we didn't have a chance. One second we were in the boat and the next second we were in the water.
"I wasn't aware where anyone else was. My survival instincts kicked in and I just grabbed Kit and decided to swim towards the beach."
Pausing to compose herself, Mrs Milligan continued: "Prior to the accident I am not aware of anything to distract either of us.
"Neither of us had ever made a manoeuvre when we felt unsafe or about to fall out. I would like to clarify that we never 'wave jumped' in the estuary."
Asked about the kill cord, Mrs Milligan said: "I didn't put it back on because I thought Nicko was going to come back and take over. Obviously that was a big mistake."
Several witnesses described either watching the incident from the shore or going to help.
Toby Courtauld said everything was normal and the speedboat suddenly turned sharply and appeared to accelerate - throwing everyone into the water.
"I saw the rib heading out towards the mouth of the estuary as it turned it bounced as if there was a lot of power on and a hard lock on," he said.
"The boat carried on in a starboard circle. On the third or fourth circuit of the group I heard but did not see a collision."
Kayaker James Anderson was paddling with his daughter Leigh and her boyfriend when he saw the boat circling the group in the water.
"As the boat collided with the group of people the engine almost stalled. After colliding with the party the engine resumed its revs and continued on its rotations," he said.
"I positioned my kayak between the boat, the people and Leigh to ensure that the boat would not collide again with the casualties.
"Once I was sure the boat was not going to collide with the casualties I paddled over to an adult male and I could see that he was dead."
His daughter said she had tried to comfort screaming Amber, who kept telling her: "My daddy's dead."
Mr Toogood told the inquest how he watched the disaster unfold from shore and jumped into his boat with colleague Will Jones to try and stop the speedboat.
He said they got in front of it and released a rope in the hope of jamming its propeller.
"I knew it had caught because it started pulling out of our hands and we let go and allowed it to drift behind out of control," he said.
"We watched the boat for about a minute and could see it was slowing down. We decided to go alongside to see if it was possible to get on board.
"I did that successfully. When I got on the boat I saw the kill cord was still in place. I put the boat into neutral and it stopped."
Post mortem examinations found that Mr Milligan died from head injuries while his daughter had suffered fatal multiple injuries.
The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow.