December 2020: Found dead in Barlinnie Prison

April 1998

Waverley skipper jailed for abuse; Former master exploited role in cynical manner

THE disgraced former captain of the Waverley paddle steamer was jailed for three years yesterday for abusing five teenage boys in his cabin.

Captain David Neill, 53, was master and “father figure” of the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer for 23 years. But he had paedophile tendencies and for six years turned the historic Clyde ship into a virtual sex trap for youngsters.

Neill, of Darvel, Ayrshire, was found guilty last month at Glasgow Sheriff Court of abusing the five boys between 1981 and 1987. The offences took place in the captain’s cabin while the Waverley was on trips on the Clyde or berthed at Anderston Quay, Glasgow.

Sentencing Neill at Glasgow Sheriff Court yesterday, Sheriff Daniel Convery told him: “As master of the Waverley, you commanded respect amongst the many adolescent boys for whom the ship was a great attraction. With some of these boys you exploited your considerable authority by sexually interfering with them. You did so in a manner and on a scale which was systematic and cynical.

“The abuse of your authority and trust makes a prison sentence inevitable, notwithstanding the fact that you face the loss of your personal reputation and ruin of your distinguished career.” During the trial last month, the victims – now young men, some with families – told how Neill interfered with them.

One boy who asked for a summer job was groped by the captain who made indecent suggestions. He was then given complimentary tickets marked “child” and asked to come back again. Another boy was ushered up to the bridge and asked if he would like the experience of working on the Waverley.

His father gave him permission and his trip was the start of three years of abuse. Captain Neill, the court heard, took another youth to his home to show him old films about paddle steamers and let him sleep in a bunk bed above his daughter. The captain groped him as his daughter slept below. All the youngsters had one thing in common, their love of the Waverley. Despite the abuse, the lure of the famous old boat and their excitement at being aboard drew them back time and time again.

Captain Neill, who is separated from his wife, is the father of two daughters and a son. He was master of the Waverley from 1975 until his arrest in June last year, and he is the second official of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society to have been convicted of sex abuse.

The steamer’s ex-chaplain, the Rev Clem Robb, 57, was jailed for seven years in 1994 for abusing seven boys over a three-year period in Church of Scotland manses. Robb introduced boys to the Waverley and at least two youngsters were abused by both men.

Neill’s defence counsel, Mr Norman Ritchie, yesterday pleaded with Sheriff Convery to punish him with a community service order rather than send him to jail. Mr David Duncanson, general manager of Waverley Excursions, said last night that the company was confident of continuing public support for the steamer.