Man, 29, convicted of killing stranger, 25, by shoving her into sea

Man, 29, is convicted of killing stranger, 25, by shoving the charity worker off pier into the sea before saying: ‘It was just a bit of fun’

  • Jacob Foster shoved charity worker Charmaine O’Donnell off Helensburgh Pier
  • She suffered severe neck injuries and drowned, despite efforts of paramedics
  • Ms O’Donnell was on furlough and had been due to return to work the next week 
  • Foster, who has a learning disability, was today convicted of a culpable homicide

A man has been convicted of killing a stranger by shoving her off a pier and into the sea before claiming ‘it was just a bit of fun’.

Jacob Foster, 29, shoved charity worker Charmaine O’Donnell off Helensburgh Pier in Argyll and Bute on April 23 last year.

Charmaine, 25, suffered severe neck injuries and drowned.

Foster, who has a learning disability, was today convicted of a culpable homicide – an offence in which a person causes the death of another by acting unlawfully but without intention to kill – following a trial at the High Court in Glasgow. He will be sentenced next month.

His legal team had lodged a special defence of diminished responsibility after he was accused of her murder.

The court earlier heard that Charmaine, from Glasgow, had been enjoying a day out with her friend Caitlin McTaggart.

She told jurors: ‘I had wanted to go the Campsies where there is a waterfall. She said “no” because she would have ended up in the water. basically.

The pair had thought about travelling to Largs, Ayrshire, but decided to instead catch the train to Helensburgh.

Charity worker Charmaine O’Donnell, from Glasgow, suffered severe neck injuries and drowned when she was shoved off Helensburgh Pier

Jacob Foster (pictured outside the High Court in Glasgow) was today convicted of a culpable homicide following a trial

When the pair arrived, they got into a conversation with some men fishing at the pier as Foster lurked nearby.

A group of youngsters had also been jumping into the water to swim at the time.

Caitlin told the court of how she suddenly heard ‘commotion’ because someone had gone over the railings at the pier.

Initially she did not know who it was, but then heard a person shout: ‘That’s your pal.’

She then peered over and, to her horror, saw Charmaine in the sea.

The court heard that the nearby youngsters in the vicinity attempted to rescue her.

Asked if she had said anything to the defendant, Caitlin said: ‘I was screaming at him to help her. He just kept saying: “What have I done? I have taken it too far this time. I am going away for a long time.”‘

Police and paramedics rushed to the scene, but Charmaine died a short time later.

Stephen Cairns, 42, was one of the men fishing on the pier when the incident took place. 

He told the court that Foster had shoved Charmaine over the edge ‘with both hands’, describing the scene as ‘chaos’ immediately afterwards.

A jury heard that PC Gary Davidson spoke to Foster on the pier when emergency services arrived at the scene.

He told the court: ‘He said that it was an accident. He said: “I just pushed her. It was just a bit of fun”.

‘He said that he had a few cans that day. I said to him the best thing was to stay calm and not say anything, but he said these things again and again.’

The officer said Foster had told him that he was not aware she could not swim.

Foster’s lawyers had claimed that, due his mental health issues, he had misunderstood an alleged remark Charmaine had made about going into the water.

But in his closing speech Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, said there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence Foster had pushed Charmaine, insisting it was ‘deliberate conduct’.

Ms O’Donnell was on furlough at the time of her death and had been due to return to work the following week

The incident took place at Helensburgh Pier in Argyll and Bute on April 23 last year, the court heard

Sean Templeton, defending Foster, asked for the defendant to be completely acquitted, adding: ‘It was a young man with learning difficulties who got it wrong.’

Following the verdict, it emerged that Foster has a number of previous convictions, including assaulting a staff member at a Costa coffee shop in Helensburgh in 2018.

Mr Prentice told the court that Charmaine had been on furlough at the time from her job as an assistant manager at a British Heart Foundation shop.

She was due to return to the charity shop a week after her death.

The advocate depute said: ‘It is clear she was much loved and her death has brought untold and continuing grief. She was described as a loving and selfless person.’

Judge Lord Fairley told the court that, in the ‘very unusual circumstances’ of the case, he would continue bail and adjourn the sentencing for reports.

Foster, of Helensburgh, will be sentenced in September. 

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