Family urges inquiry into Kirsty MacColl's death


Letter from Cozumel: The Caribbean surf drifts lazily ashore along Cozumel's pristine sandy beaches where children paddle and adults float gently in the warm water, gazing upwards at the cloudless sky, writes Michael McCaughan.

A small island jutting out from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Cozumel has become an extension of the near- by Cancun resort; an overpriced and over-exploited tourist zone.

It is widely regarded as the best diving area in Mexico, its marine nature reserve housing lush coral gardens and remote reefs sheltering turtles, dolphins and rare fish. Upmarket tourists book into the Villablanca Garden Beach Hotel while budget travellers check into the beach with their sleeping bags.

Cozumel's languorous mood was brutally shattered one afternoon three years ago when a speedboat propeller struck and killed British singer Kirsty MacColl, who was diving below the Chankanaab coral reef.

MacColl and her teenage children, Jamie and Louis, had spent half an hour underwater before the dive master motioned for them to return to the surface.

As they emerged, they saw a speedboat powering towards them with its bow raised out of the water. MacColl screamed and pushed her sons out of the way.

The boat propeller struck her on the back as her horrified son Louis looked on, immediately urging Jamie to look away as he realised he was swimming in his mother's blood.

The horrific details have emerged as Kirsty's mother Jean MacColl (80) prepares to visit Mexico next month and demand a fresh inquiry into the death.

The speedboat, called the Per- calito, was owned by Guillermo González Nova, a billionaire businessman whose retail network, Comercial Mexicana, is the second-largest in the country. At the time of the collision, González, his two sons, his daugh- ter-in-law and his baby grand- daughter were all on board.

At the helm was a boat hand, José Cen Yam, hired to carry out maintenance tasks, but who apparently piloted the boat for the first time that day.

Mr Cem Yan was found guilty of homicide and sentenced to two years and 10 months behind bars but was allowed to go free after paying a fine of 1,000 Mexican pesos (€100).

MacColl's mother hired private investigators who allegedly discovered attempts by authorities to distort the statement made by the dive master in charge of the MacColl's trip on the day she was killed.

She questions also evidence given by Mr González Nava in court. "He said the boat was only going at one knot. If it was, it would have gently pushed the divers out of the way. Witnesses say it was more like 20 knots." In addition the boat should not have been inside a national park area. Bought in 1994 for €150,000, it had two engines and a top speed of 33 knots.

Mr González's legal team noted there was no marker buoy floating above the divers and that the dive boat was under-crewed and not flying the right flag.

Daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl, Kirsty made her name in 1981 at the age of 22 with her hit song There's A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis.

A passion for Latin-American music took her to Cuba and Brazil whose musical traditions heavily influenced the highly acclaimed Tropical Brainstorm album released shortly before her death. Irish music fans will remember her bittersweet vocals on the Christmas classic Fairytale of New York, a duet with Shane McGowan.

The cover of her last record featured a flying fish leaping out of a turquoise sea while the opening lyrics painted an image that could adorn a brochure promoting Cozumel: "I know an island where the people are kind, and the rest of the world seems far away/Maybe it's only at the back of my mind, but I know when I go that's where I'll stay."

Meanwhile Jean MacColl is preparing to travel to Mexico soon and confront Mr González. "That man hasn't even apologised," she said. "My grandchildren and I have to live with this pain which will be with us forever."