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Audley Travel admits liability over death of Tenterden mother Gillian Metcalf in Brazil boat tragedy

By Rachael Woods

A luxury travel firm has admitted liability for the death of a mother in a boating accident in Brazil.

Gillian Metcalf, 50, from Tenterden, died from head injuries after a boat she and her husband Charlie, and their daughters Natasha and Alice were in, crashed with another vessel on the Rio Negro river in September, 2013.

Mrs Metcalf, a lawyer, was on a family holiday on a trip booked with Audley Travel.

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Gillian Metcalf, mother of two from Tenterden, in Brazil on the day before she died
Gillian Metcalf, mother of two from Tenterden, in Brazil on the day before she died

The firm, which specialises in authentic travel experiences, has taken three years to admit liability, something that Mr Metcalf says has caused the family a great deal of pain.

“They have kept us waiting but myself and the girls were determined to carry on until we had succeeded.

“The waiting stops you from moving on from what happened. You stay anchored in the past, but now we know they have admitted liability it completes the circle.”

Two boatmen, Raimundo Nonato Lima and Mailson Gomesall went on trial in Manaus and were found guilty of the equivalent of manslaughter and eventually imprisoned.

Mr Metcalf, 60, of Plummer Lane, Tenterden, who was married to Gillian for 25 years said: “We still don’t know how long the boatmen will spend in jail but have been told that they will never work on the river again.

“Our river pilot didn’t have respect for human life and in court he was very surly and just trying to save his own skin, but I’m not eaten up by hatred for him.”

The family were on their way to the Juma Amazon Lodge as part of a 12-day tour of the South American country, when Mrs Metcalf was fatally hurt in the collision.

Mr Metcalf said: “The circumstances of the accident and the police inquiry made it obvious early on that both river pilots were grossly negligent and reckless.

Gillian Metcalf, who was tragically killed in a boat crash
Gillian Metcalf, who was tragically killed in a boat crash

“After three return trips to Brazil, both pilots were convicted of criminal manslaughter in August 2015. At the subsequent inquest in the UK there was a verdict of unlawful killing.

“During this period of time both my daughters have celebrated their 21st birthdays and graduated from university without their mother.

“Throughout this whole time Audley Travel’s legal representatives refused to admit liability. This has added great financial uncertainty to a period of grief and readjustment.

“Finally Audley Travel’s legal representatives have admitted full liability. I do not know why this took so long or what finally prompted them to act in the way justice always demanded.

Alice, Charlie and Natasha Metcalf
Alice, Charlie and Natasha Metcalf

“I hope now the case can be settled fairly and without further unnecessary and cruel delay and we can turn our efforts to other things.”

The amount of compensation has yet to be determined, but Mr Metcalf was forced to spend tens of thousands of pounds of his own money in getting justice for his wife.

Mr Metcalf is now studying counselling at Canterbury College, which he says has given him a new focus in his life. Daughter Natasha, 23, has a post-graduate placement with online supermarket Ocado and Alice, 21, is studying for an MA at Leeds University.

Lawyer Jenny Kennedy, a partner at London-based Anthony Gold, said: “It’s taken three years [for Audley Travel] to accept responsibilty [for Gillian’s death] and it’s been an agonising wait for the family.

The Rio Negro in the Brazilian Amazon
The Rio Negro in the Brazilian Amazon

“It’s very hard to understand why they didn’t accept responsibility in the first place and I had to issue proceedings in the High Court for compensation.

“None of us was going to give up.”

Ian Simkins, CEO of Audley Travel, said: “Our deepest condolences go out to the Metcalf family.

"We are incredibly sorry for the tragic event and since then we have tried to support the family as best we can, for example providing on-the-ground support during the criminal proceedings in Brazil and admitting liability under the Package Travel Regulations.

"At present, we are waiting for the family’s solicitors to submit a legal claim, and we hope to hear from them soon.

"We are sorry that this has taken a long time but are keen to resolve the legal matter for the sake of the family."

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