Worker died after ‘scuba diving’ in fruit storage unit

Ashley Clarke who died at Blackmoor Estate
Ashley Clarke who died at Blackmoor Estate

A YOUNG farm worker died after being asked to ‘scuba dive’ for prize-winning apples in an oxygen-deprived storage unit, a court heard.

Ashley Clarke, 24, who grew up in Markway Close, Emsworth and played for Southsea Nomads Rugby Club, was found unconscious on top of crates of apples in a storage facility along with his colleague Scott Cain, 23, on February 18, 2013.

Andrew Stocker, 57, is accused of the manslaughter of the two workers at the Blackmoor Estate in Liss, owned by Tory peer Lord Selborne, by ignoring health and safety regulation through encouraging his staff to use the ‘dangerous’ procedure.

Mark Dennis QC, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court that Stocker – on holiday in the Maldives at the time – had instructed Mr Cain to gather the sample fruit while he was away to be entered in the Marden Fruit Show, held twice a year in Kent.

He said that Stocker enjoyed the ‘kudos’ of winning at the contest.

He explained that Stocker encouraged the practice nicknamed ‘scuba diving’, which involved staff entering the storage units through a hatch in the roof and holding their breath while they ducked inside in the cramped conditions to retrieve fruit samples.

Mr Dennis said the air in the sealed units had oxygen levels reduced to one per cent for the long-term preservation of the fruit and a person would die immediately after they ran out of breath while in the facility.

He said the term ‘scuba diving’ was ironic as they were not given breathing apparatus to carry out the task.

Mr Dennis said: ‘On the day of the double fatality, the defendant had just arrived in the Maldives for the start of a holiday.

‘However, three days earlier he had given instructions that an employee should gather samples for the forthcoming fruit show which had to be delivered to the show’s organisers by the Wednesday and he instructed Scott Cain to take the lead on gathering the samples, leaving Scott to raise a companion to assist him.

‘The defendant knew well that the forbidden form of entry would have to be employed in order to gather the samples.’

Stocker of The Links, Whitehill, Bordon, denies the charges.

In a police statement he said it was a ‘safe method’, the court heard.

Mr Dennis added: ‘This was an accident waiting to happen.’

Ashley, a former Bourne Community College pupil, had moved from Emsworth to live with his fiancée Rachel Higgins in Liss.