The following is a transcript of Justice Peter Lyons' sentencing remarks when he sentenced Gabe Watson after his plea of guilty:
STAND up, please, Mr Watson. You stand convicted on your plea of guilty of the offence of manslaughter causing the death of your wife. The offence occurred when you had both been diving in the vicinity of the historical shipwreck Yongala some 48 nautical miles east of Townsville.
The deceased experienced difficulties during the dive. You made some attempts to assist her but these were unsuccessful.
In the course of this, your face mask and regulator were dislodged. However, you were able to replace your face mask and to get an alternative oxygen supply from what is referred to as a safe second.
When this happened, you could see that the deceased was sinking but you formed the view that there was nothing you could do and you swam away with a view to getting assistance. There are circumstances beyond those I have just described which are relevant to determining your sentence.
You were clearly a far more experienced diver than the deceased was. The deceased had what is called an open-water certification, which I understand to be a basic diving qualification and which she had attained some months previously. The dive at the Yongala was a significant challenge for a diver of the level of experience and competence of the deceased.
On the other hand, you were a diver with substantial experience, although it is pointed out that much of your experience was not in open waters where significant currents could be encountered. You had a number of qualifications, including a rescue diver certificate which you had obtained some 4 years before these events. The dive was carried out using the buddy system. As your wife's buddy for the dive, you took responsibility for providing her with assistance if she encountered difficulty.
The Crown alleges against you that you failed to carry out your duty to her in a number of significant ways. I accept that you failed to do so in the following respects: you failed to ensure that when the deceased had encountered difficulties she had a supply of oxygen available to her and, in particular, you failed to share your oxygen supply with her; having released the deceased to recover your face mask and oxygen supply, you did not then take hold of her again or stay with her, or follow her as she sank; you did not attempt at any time to inflate her buoyancy control device or remove the weights which divers often carry to assist them to descend.
It follows from these matters, that you failed to make any reasonable attempt to take the deceased to the surface. I therefore accept that you are guilty of a very serious departure from the standard of care which was incumbent upon you with the result that your conduct is deserving of criminal punishment.
An offence such as manslaughter which involves the loss of a human life is obviously a very serious matter. The deceased was 26. You were recently married. She had every reason to look forward to a long and happy life.
Her death is also a great tragedy for her family. I have read the victim impact statements. They demonstrate that she and her family were very close and that she was very close to her friend. They demonstrate how deeply her loss is felt by all of them. Her family, obviously and naturally, take a very serious view of your conduct and that, not surprisingly, appears in their statements. However, there is much in those statements from which I do not gain assistance in determining your sentence.
I propose to say something about the course of proceedings which have led to today's hearing. The events which led to the charge against you occurred in October 2003. You were interviewed by the police on that day and on some occasions subsequently.
A coronial inquest was conducted in late 2007 and in 2008 resulting in your being committed in June 2008 and a warrant then issuing for your arrest.
An indictment charging you with murder was presented on the 28th of November, 2008.
You have voluntarily returned from the United States and have surrendered yourself into custody in Australia. In my view, it is quite significant that at the time of your return you did not know that the Crown would not persist in charging you with murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. You no doubt expected that you would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for a substantial period in what for you is a foreign country.
You have, in fact, acknowledged that you are guilty of manslaughter. You do not seek to pretend that your actions were other than what they were. In doing so, you have spared the deceased's family the agony of a trial.
While in the context of the loss of the deceased's life it may not be of great significance, it must also be recognised that you have saved the community the expense of conducting a trial.
I regard your conduct as a recognition by you of your wrongdoing and an expression of remorse.
I am conscious that you have no criminal history. There is, naturally, no suggestion of a risk of reoffending.
You have provided a number of references from people who appear to be quite reputable and to know you well. They confirm that you are of good character. They also reveal that you are a person who is known to help others and that you loved your wife and were devastated by her loss.
I have referred to the delay in the prosecution of the case against you. It is a plainly considerable delay. When there is delay in the prosecution of a criminal charge, a major consideration which often works in reduction of the sentence is that rehabilitation may have occurred in the period since the offence. That is not a relevant consideration in this case. However, you have carried the burden of these events for a substantial period. That is a matter to which I am prepared to give weight.
I consider that that burden has been increased by the very extensive publicity which these events have occasioned. That is demonstrated, to some extent, by the obvious presence of a significant number of representatives of the media in the court today. I also accept that in that period you have been subject to accusations of matters of which you are not guilty.
In addition to the admission constituted by your plea, I accept that you co-operated with the police at an early stage and that, generally, the essential matters relied on now for acceptance of a plea of manslaughter were communicated by you to the police in about October of 2003. In fact, a significant number of them appear in the statement you gave to the police on that day, including your certification as a rescue diver, the fact that you and the deceased were diving as dive buddies, and the circumstances in which you left the deceased. There have been, in some of your statements, some inconsistencies and some attempts to put blame on other people. There does not seem to be any persistence in your attempt to put blame on anyone else and I accept that the responsibility for this loss is yours alone. The inconsistencies and those attempts, to me, while they do not speak particularly well of you, should be looked at in the circumstances in which they occurred. That is, they occurred shortly after the dive and at a time when you, no doubt, were deeply upset by the events which have occurred.
I have been referred to a number of authorities. I do not propose to refer to all of them. There is always a difficulty in finding authorities which are strongly analogous to the circumstances of a particular case in which a sentence is to be given. I do, however, note the submissions made by your counsel in relation to the case of Pesnak (2000) QCA 245.
That was a case where the accused had a significant period of time, a matter of days, in which to identify the worsening condition of the person who ultimately died.
Your case is quite different. The precise time is unclear, but it can only have been of the order of two minutes from the time that the deceased first started to encounter difficulties until you surfaced, and the time within which you made your initial decision to leave her was obviously significantly less.
I suspect that once you had made that decision and decided to go to seek other assistance, there would have been difficulty in reversing your decision and turning back again to try to assist her. I accept, nevertheless, that there is a very serious departure in your case from the requirements of the duty of care which you had undertaken in the course of this dive.
The seriousness of the matter, notwithstanding the factors which I take into account in mitigation, means that it is necessary to impose a penalty which provides for a substantial period of imprisonment.
I therefore propose to impose a head sentence of 4 years.
Because of the mitigating factors which I have identified and because I accept that for you in Australia time in prison will be harder than it will be for people who serve a sentence of imprisonment in their own country, I intend to fix a suspension date a little earlier than might otherwise have been the case.
Accordingly, I order that you be imprisoned for a period of 4 years. I declare that the period of 23 days from the 13th of May 2009 until the 5th of June 2009 be deemed time already served under the sentence.
I order that the term of imprisonment be suspended after a period of 12 months' imprisonment which will take into account that 23 day period.
I am required to inform you that you must not commit another offence punishable by imprisonment within a period of 4 years to avoid being dealt with for the suspended term of imprisonment.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I order that a conviction be recorded.