A diver has been cleared on appeal for having caused the death of his long-time diving buddy three years ago. 

In a case that caused outrage in the diving community, Arthur Castillo was convicted last November of the involuntary manslaughter of Christine Gauci, an AFM soldier and diving instructor.

She died after getting into difficulties in an incident in Mġarr ix-Xini in Gozo in January 2020.

However an appeal court cleared him of all criminal liability on Wednesday. 

Castillo, 60, had his conviction quashed after the court gave a different interpretation to the “buddy system” which had been a crucial factor in his previous conviction. 

Charles Azzopardi, an expert in the field had explained that “the whole scope of the diving buddy system is for the two divers to be close to each other to assist each other in any untoward event during the dive.”

Although the court was not presented with any written regulations on how the buddy system worked, even from the name itself and from the expert’s definition, the court could reach its interpretation.

Not responsible

And the court interpreted that system as referring to two individuals who are there for each other, to assist each other, observed Madam Justice Consuelo. However, that did not mean that the two were responsible for each other. 

The case certainly could not be compared to that of a driver who through negligence hits a pedestrian crossing the street. 

In this case, Castillo was not some company representative acting as an instructor with the victim. 

The two were friends who used to go diving together and had done so several times before, the court continued. 

Focusing on the notion of contributory negligence, the court said that although the victim’s own negligence did not exonerate the accused, it was to be considered.

The court believed that Castillo was not negligent and could not have prevented the incident from happening. 

Victim was tired

The victim herself was an experienced diver and furthermore, an instructor.

That day she had not slept for over twenty hours and was tired. 

Although her friends had advised her twice over not to go diving, she insisted on going ahead. 

Moreover, just a fortnight before the fatality, she had voiced her concern with a third party, who also testified in the proceedings, about problems she was experiencing with her dry suit. 

He had advised her not to undertake any “aggressive dives.” 

When all was considered, the court upheld the appeal and cleared the appellant of all criminal liability

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us