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Rogue fishing skipper faked own death

Jail for author of premature obituary

A fishing skipper who attempted to avoid questioning by the Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA) by pretending he was dead and submitting his own obituary to a trade newspaper was yesterday sentenced to six-and-a-half years' jail.

Derek Atkins, 56, of Portsmouth, was under investigation by the MFA for various offences, including 20 counts of "failing to submit proper landing log book declarations for the British registered fishing vessel Zuiderzee which he skippered in 2007 and a further charge of failure to notify a landing of scallops at Shoreham, Sussex".

He was also under scrutiny by The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which reported him for "obtaining five Certificates of Competency by deception and sailing as an unqualified person under Section 52 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995".

When the MFA "invited" Atkins for interview, it learned he'd sadly popped his clogs. The 22 June 2007 issue of Fishing News carried the following obituary: "He was totally dedicated to his career and had little time for officials, MPs or political parties who he believed were mostly a waste of time, money and effort.

"He firmly believed that between them DEFRA, the MCA and the government's rules simply want to stop the British fisherman earning an honest living and have the British fleet scrapped to enable foreigners to take whatever they want from British waters.

"After all, he would say, they have had everything else so they may as well have our fishing industry too. People found him to be a gentleman at sea with a great sense of humour who would always help anyone. He was a quiet family man and will be deeply missed by his family and friends."

An MFA fisheries inspector was suspcious, and contacted the police. A subsequent investigation revealed Atkins' offences were not restricted to the maritime.

At a 12 December 2008 court hearing, Atkins pleaded guilty to a string of charges, including perverting the course of justice, deception and fraud, and "failing to alert the authorities of change of name while on the sex offenders' register".

In sentencing Atkins yesterday, the judge said: "I'm satisfied that you are a lying, cunning and calculating fraudster who has exploited friends and acquaintances for many years. In addition you are a determined identity fraudster who used a false name to earn income as an unqualified skipper, who with some limited experience endangered not just yourself and the vessel but the crew and other vessels. It is obvious that was an act that needs to be taken seriously."

An MFA spokesman said: "This was a case of the enforcement agencies working together in what turned out to be a very serious matter that went way beyond fishing offences. Atkins had complete disregard for fishing rules designed to safeguard fish stocks and ultimately fishermen's jobs - but considering the serious nature of the other offences it's not difficult to work out why."

Captain Andrew Phillips of the MCA's Enforcement Unit said: "Mr Atkins had absolutely no qualifications whatsoever to sail as a skipper of a UK fishing vessel. In doing so he put at risk fishermen, his vessel and the integrity of the environment. He also put at risk insurance cover for any vessel he worked on." ®

Bootnote

Fishing News published the obituary "in good faith", the MCA notes.

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