An Englishman has been acquitted of killing a young Irish tourist on the holiday island of Tenerife over 16 years ago.

Plumber Darren Sapstead was found not guilty of throwing 21-year-old Garry Walton to his death during a cruise in the resort of Playa de Las Américas on 7 November, 1996.

The jury took almost five hours to reach their unanimous verdict in the Criminal Court on the island’s capital, Santa Cruz.

Mr Sapstead clapped his hands as the translator relayed to him the two-page verdict.

The jurors said they had based their decision on the "many contradictions" noted in the testimony of the prosecution's two key witnesses, Katie and Lucy Smethurst, who incriminated Mr Sapstead nearly a year after the incident.

After initially denying knowing anything about the drowning - which police initially believed to have been accidental - Katie Smethurst told Manchester police in September 1997 that she saw Mr Sapstead "grab Mr Walton around the knees and push him into the sea" over a rail at the back of the boat.

Around 50 young British and Irish tourists were enjoying a party cruise at the time.

Her sister Lucy told the court that the defendant had visited their hotel shortly after the drowning "to warn them to keep quiet about it".

In their written verdict, the jury said "the sisters changed their story many times between 1996 and today whereas the defendant has always kept to the same version since the beginning".

The family of the dead Irishman, who have fought a 16-year battle to bring the case to trial, were in court to hear the verdict.

Garry's father Robert held his head in his hands as the details of the acquittal were announced and had to be comforted by his wife Catherine and sisters Rachel and Debbie.

Although very disappointed with the outcome, Mr Walton said that "a guilty verdict would not have brought Garry back anyway".

Speaking outside the courtroom afterwards, Mr Stapstead, who would have faced 12 years in jail if convicted, said the accusation made against him had cost him "a business and nearly 17 years of my life".

"The Spanish justice system is a joke", he added.