UK

The speedboat seducer who made a fatal error

Jack Shepherd Image copyright Steve Parsons
Image caption Shepherd let Charlotte Brown drive his speedboat for a "thrill", the Old Bailey heard

Jack Shepherd had a polished seduction routine. He would take women out for expensive meals and thrilling rides on his speedboat. But one night his fixation on trying to impress went horribly wrong when he killed his date, Charlotte Brown.

Shepherd met Charlotte - or Charli, as she was known - for the first time on a December night in 2015. Before that, they'd got to know each other online through the dating website OkCupid.

The 28-year-old web designer took his 24-year-old date to the Oblix restaurant on the 32nd floor of London's Shard - an unmissable skyscraper with stunning views across the capital.

They ordered two bottles of wine and flatbread. When the £150 bill came, he paid.

They then went back to his houseboat, 10 miles away in Hammersmith, west London, by taxi, where they drank more alcohol. During the evening, Shepherd told Charlotte he had a speedboat.

Later, in a police interview, he admitted: "I think I was probably, you know, wanting to sleep with her basically, and so that was probably what I wanted to do and she wanted to go in the boat so I've gone 'OK'."

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption Charlotte Brown, known as Charli, was a business development consultant from London

The pair headed out on his 1980s, red, 14ft Fletcher Arrowflyte GTO which he'd bought from Gumtree. The court heard the boat was badly maintained.

Witnesses for the prosecution, who examined it after the accident, said it had a number of pre-existing defects, including "poor and sloppy steering" and a "partially opaque" windscreen.

On the night of the accident, Shepherd sped along the Thames towards the Houses of Parliament at 30 knots - well above the 12 knot limit for that part of the river.

It was cold and dark. He'd taken champagne on board, and according to his account, he let Charlotte take over the steering on their way back for a "thrill".

Prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC described that decision as "sheer madness".

Not long after Charlotte took the controls the boat crashed and capsized by Plantation Wharf.

It's thought it hit a floating piece of timber or tree.

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption Jack Shepherd told police he bought the speedboat to "pull women"

Steven Morrissey, who lives in a flat close to Wandsworth Bridge, said in a witness statement he heard Shepherd calling out.

"He just kept saying, 'Help me, help me, somebody help me.' It was just 'help me' - not 'us', or 'her'."

Shepherd was found clinging to the upturned hull of the boat near the bridge at about 23:40. Charlotte was found in the water close by just before midnight.

She was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead, with a post-mortem examination later finding she had died from cold water immersion.

When emergency crews spoke to Shepherd after he was pulled from the water they said he appeared extremely confused and drunk. Jurors heard how he asked them where Charlotte was, but he couldn't remember her name.

Missing

Charlotte's family sat through every day of the trial, hearing the events of that awful night retold.

Shepherd didn't.

All the jury knew was that he had chosen not to give evidence in his defence, but in a pre-trial hearing, which we can now report, Shepherd's defence team said they last saw him in May. The day before the trial he told them over the phone he did not intend to attend.

"Was he still in the country?" Judge Richard Marks asked. "We really don't know where he is," replied barrister Andrew McGee.

When Charlotte got onto Shepherd's speedboat that night she probably didn't know he had used the same routine with several other women.

But he told police after the accident he had invited 10 other dates back to his houseboat in the year he lived there and most of them had been out on his speedboat.

An interviewing officer asked him: "Don't get me wrong, is that part of your evening's events, shall we say?"

Shepherd replied: "Yeah, I mean, I got it with the intention of, you know, trying to pull women with it, basically."

'Slow down'

Amy Warner was one of those women.

She came to court to tell the jury how she also went on a first date with Shepherd on a summer's evening just over three months before the tragedy.

He had messaged her through a dating app, and later took her out on his speedboat which she described as red and "quite old looking".

She told jurors they headed towards the Shard where they got off and had dinner at a sushi restaurant in Heron Tower, another well-known skyscraper in the City of London.

"He was driving quite fast. Obviously, from other surroundings, like boat traffic coming towards us, the water was quite choppy. I asked Jack to slow down," she said.

He did, but Ms Warner told the court they were stopped by the river police, who spoke to Shepherd about his speeding and advised him about wearing life jackets.

He didn't take that advice when he took Charlotte out though.

"Neither of us were wearing life jackets, although there were two between the seats," he told police afterwards. "I did not even ask if she could swim."

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption A prosecution witness showed jurors various alleged defects with the boat, such as a "wobbly" steering wheel

Although life jackets are not mandatory, jurors were told if Charlotte had been wearing one, it would have "increased the probability" of her survival in the water.

Shepherd had also been warned by the river police for speeding on another occasion and there were others who spotted him going too fast.

Glyn Richmond, pier master of Imperial Wharf, saw Shepherd's speedboat during that same summer on the Thames. He described seeing the boat going fast on three to four occasions and had spotted a girl sitting on the bow.

The jury found Shepherd guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence by a majority of 11-1.

Charlotte's mother, Roz Wickens, said: "There are no words in the universe to describe how wonderful Charlotte was... the best daughter ever, my best friend. We'll never get over losing her.

"Life won't be the same. Every breath that I take, is a guilty breath, that I'm taking breath and she's not."

Shepherd is also wanted by police for failing to attend court over another unrelated matter.

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