A husband lost at sea – and a family left in legal limbo

Jacqui Hoyland
Jacqui Hoyland
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Three years after her husband died in a jet ski accident Jacqui Hoyland is still campaigning for justice. Robert Sutcliffe reports.

AT 1PM on Monday, three years ago, Jacqui Hoyland’s world fell apart in the space of a single phone call.

Her husband Jeremy, a 41-year-old British jet ski champion, was helping out with a major race – the Asian Beach Games – half way round the world in Bali, Indonesia.

He had been honoured to be asked and after travelling as a race official to the World Championships in Arizona at the end of September was en route for to Bali for the games which started on October 19.

But now here was a woman called Jane Pickard from a jet ski company in Sheffield ringing with some bad news – her husband and the father of her two daughters was missing.

Initially, she was not too concerned. Her husband was always in some scrape or other and she shook her head saying: “Oh, what has he done now?” in a well-rehearsed ritual of wifely resignation. “I said: ‘what do you mean you can’t find him?’

“She explained about him dropping back to help a 70-year-old colleague, that he had been in a 15-foot swell and was hanging on to his jet ski to make himself bigger for search and resuce helicopeters.

“He had been making phone calls and sending text messages before the phone battery gave out.”

With her 13-year-old daughter Elenna in the house, Jacqui tried to stay calm so as not to frighten her.

But with that phone call a nightmare began from which she and her family will never recover.

Three years on, Jeremy’s body has not been found and Jacqui has been left in a legal and emotional limbo.

She is now campaigning for a change in the law so that families who find themselves in a similar situation do not have to experience such an imbroglio.

Speaking at her home in Penistone she is bitter at the lack of help she says she has received from the Goverment.

The problem for her is that as the law stands, unless she can convince the authorities to issue her with a death certificate stating her husband is dead, she may have to wait several more years before finance and insurance companies accept it.

When she attended a parliamentary inquiry to speak publicly about her family’s ordeal it proved too much and she broke down in tears.

The inquiry was designed to establish what support is required for the loved ones of missing people and the session she attended was about the Presumption of Death Act, which exists in Northern Ireland and Scotland but not England and Wales.

Jacqui, 45, explains: “Where the Act is in place there is a protocol that is followed whereas here there is nothing and all we are left with is trying to prove the death at court in front of a judge, where families present their evidence and insurance companies can challenge it.

“I have been told this can cost £30,000 and there is no guarantee that you will win so you could end up having to pay court costs.

“The whole situation is a nightmare and I broke down for the first time when I spoke about what we have had to go through.”

And without a death certificate there is no closure, no funeral service and no prospect of being able to move on, however gingerly, with her life.

But it is the absence of her larger-than-life soulmate who was so capable, so reliable and so much fun that is the deepest cut.

With two teenage daughters, the home cries out for the return of this reassuring family man who was such a bundle of energy he never knew how to press the off-switch.

But Jacqui, a tough-minded realist, knows his presence is never going to light up their lives again.

She says she came to terms with his death a long time ago though he is never far from her thoughts.

The cruellest moment of all she says came early on when a Foreign Office official rang her as she was carrying her luggage downstairs about to fly out to Indonesia.

She said: “This woman said: ‘I have some good news for you, it’s not official but we think we have found him. Rescuers have found a British man alive in the water – he had been pulled out and was on a boat to meet his friends.

“We were crying and I rang his parents and said they have found him. Everyone was elated. We then got another call to say it was a hoax, it was just a piece of wood after all.

“That’s when it hit me, the Foreign Office have never apologised for that, they should never have made that phone call. It was not until then that reality struck. I just cried and cried.”

When Jacqui flew over to Bali her training as an international project director came in useful in trying to establish exactly what had befallen her husband.

Helicopters were commissioned and no stone was left unturned in her bid to get to the truth.

But despite having a more complete picture of her husband’s terrifying last moments, in which he begged for help saying he couldn’t cling on any longer, the sense of closure still eludes her.

She says: “It was three years on Monday when I got that phone call from Jane Pickard. I can remember it all as if it was yesterday.

“While the girls and I talk about Jeremy all the time I can’t talk about how he died, it’s just too painful, I just can’t talk about that.

“I never work that particular day since it happened.”

This year she and her daughters, Ellena and Georgia, will light a special candle and place it in a giant candle holder next to a garden bench she bought on the first anniversary of his death.

The idea symbolises a welcoming light to guide him home – a journey she knows in her heart he will never be able to make.

Of the dangers of jet ski-ing she was well aware but it was a family activity which they all enjoyed.

“We were all aware of how dangerous it was,” she says, “Jeremy wanted me and the girls to go to Bali that week but it would have meant taking them out of school which I wasn’t keen to do and it would have been a lot of money for a week.

“He would have loved me to have been out there with him but it wasn’t to be.

But at least she has fantastic, joyous memories of her husband – a man’s man, who kept her in constant fits of laughter from the moment they met at a Young Farmers’ event at the local pub.

Within two weeks of asking for a first date, more than 20 years ago, he proposed marriage in front of all their friends at another Young Farmers do – a moment she still recalls with some embarrassment.

She said: “Everybody loved him, if anyone was thinking of throwing a party his name would be top of the list.

“He has always been my best friend, he was a breath of fresh air, he loved his family and would do anything for us.”

Thrills and risks of jet-skiing

Jet Ski-ing is probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

The craft are fast, easy to operate and slicing through the water at speeds of up to 65mph is a thrill not to be missed.

Inevitably though serious accidents do occur.

Jeremy Hoyland was highly experienced and had a water-proof pouch for his mobile phone to use in emergencies.

But however, professional the skier and whatever safety checks are taken jet ski-ing at sea has obvious risks.

Mrs Hoyland says her husband’s would-be rescuers were looking in the wrong place for him and if the accident had happened in the seas off a First World country the chances are he would still be alive today.