Is the roofer who crossed the Irish Sea a fool for love, asks REBECCA HARDY 

For a young man who is, according to his girlfriend Jessica Radcliffe, ‘really bright’, Dale McLaughlan can be pretty daft.

Or as her mum Sharon told her: ‘B***** hell, Jess. You don’t half pick them!’

Dale is the love-struck roofer sentenced to four weeks in prison on Monday for breaking Covid rules after jet-skiing from Scotland to the Isle of Man to see Jessica.

The 28-year-old set off from the mainland on the four-and-a-half hour trip, despite never having ridden a water scooter before and being unable to swim.

Dale McLaughlan is the love-struck roofer sentenced to four weeks in prison on Monday for breaking Covid rules after jet-skiing from Scotland to the Isle of Man to see Jessica

Dale McLaughlan is the love-struck roofer sentenced to four weeks in prison on Monday for breaking Covid rules after jet-skiing from Scotland to the Isle of Man to see Jessica

Dale McLaughlan is the love-struck roofer sentenced to four weeks in prison on Monday for breaking Covid rules after jet-skiing from Scotland to the Isle of Man to see Jessica

When he landed on a beach 15 miles from his girlfriend’s terrace home in island capital Douglas, there was less than ten minutes’ fuel left in his tank.

‘He got here about 1pm and literally picked me up and carried me upstairs straight from the back door,’ says Jessica. ‘That was the first time we … ‘ She giggles.

‘It was like a fairy tale. He said: ‘I can’t believe I’ve missed you so much.’ He’s a Romeo — a Romeo roofer.’

Jessica, 30, a healthcare worker with two children, Scarlet, eight, and Sky, four, is giddy with love for Dale. They met in September, when he was working (legally) on the island.

She says she didn’t have a clue he had jet-skied across the Irish Sea — which he thought would take 40 minutes — until the police knocked on her door after two days.

The Isle of Man has strict border rules under Covid. Non-residents can only enter with special permission. 

Anyone breaching the regulations faces a maximum three months in prison or a fine of up to £10,000.

‘I couldn’t believe what lengths he went to. Everyone’s calling him Romeo and saying it’s like a Milk Tray ad.’ 

Jessica Radcliffe, 30, is giddy with love for Dale

Jessica Radcliffe, 30, is giddy with love for Dale

Jessica Radcliffe, 30, is giddy with love for Dale

She’s referring to the classic advert in which the smouldering Milk Tray Man goes through hell and high water to bring his lady chocolates.

‘I’ve never had one box of Milk Tray,’ she muses. ‘He did send me some Irn-Bru. I love it. He bought two Christmas presents, too, but obviously I can’t open them yet.’

Jessica is one of those generous-hearted, bouncy young women who seems to say whatever pops into her head.

She spoke to Dale at the Isle of Man’s only prison yesterday, their first long chat since his arrest.

‘He told me he bought the jet ski because he wanted to see me so much. It was dropped off at his work the day before. 

‘He put it in the car at the back of where he lived so nobody would see it and set off at 4am because he couldn’t wait any longer.

‘The crossing was a bit choppier than he thought it would be but he didn’t care what happened. All he was thinking about when he was at sea was me.

‘This is a fairy-tale love story. It’s ridiculous he’s been put in prison. He took a test before he came here, which was negative but they’re just trying to prove a point. 

‘Other people break the rules but they aren’t in prison.’

Quite. The Prime Minister’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings drove 240 miles from London to his parents’ Durham home in lockdown while Professor Neil Ferguson, the scientist who prompted Boris Johnson to lock down Britain, broke the rules to meet his married lover, and Sky News presenter Kay Burley has apologised for not sticking to the rules on her 60th birthday.

‘How come we get made an example of and they get nothing?’ says Jessica. ‘I understand they need to make everyone aware that what Dale did was wrong but it really doesn’t make sense.

‘All he wanted to do was see his girl. That’s what he kept saying to me: ‘I want to see my girl.’

Jessica, an Isle of Man native, must now self-isolate until Christmas Eve, while Dale, expected to serve two weeks of his sentence, must return home on release.

‘He told me he’d do it all again,’ says Jessica. ‘He said: ‘I love you so much, Jess, I’d cross the ocean for you.’ ‘

Dale is a father of two from Irvine, North Ayrshire, and is separated. After they met, Jess, who separated from her children’s father three years ago, was bowled over.

‘When we kissed on the second night it made me feel all giggly. Every time I think of him he makes me feel shy and childlike.

‘He said he wanted to get to know me more and could he take me for dates while he was over here? He began coming to my house every day after work.

‘Then, the day before he had to leave he sent me a Snapchat saying he could see himself ‘falling in a big pile of feelings for me’.’

Jessica was in pieces when Dale left on the boat. ‘We were both really sad,’ she says. ‘I thought I’d never get to see him again because of Covid. 

‘No one’s allowed to come over here — not even students. Non-residents can only come here for work and have to quarantine for 14 days.’

To date, the island has only had 373 cases and 25 deaths. Jessica knows the policy has saved the lives of people like her 60-year-old mother who has a chronic lung condition, but …

‘Apparently love makes you do reckless things,’ she says. ‘I can’t believe he loves me that much to go and do that — when he can’t swim.

‘But he applied twice to come and see me. He said he’d even pay for his own tests. They said he had to wait until the rules were relaxed.’

They continued their relationship with texts and nightly video chats until, a month ago, when Dale told Jessica he would be coming over on December 11 for work. 

She had no reason to doubt his story and says: ‘When he arrived he walked through the door and gave me the biggest kiss.’

Wasn’t she suspicious about him being soaking wet? ‘No. It was raining over here,’ she says.

They spent the weekend together before police knocked on her door at 8.30pm on Sunday. The couple had been to a bar on the Saturday night and, it being a small island, everyone knows everyone else.

Jessica was, she says, ‘in shock’.

‘They put us in handcuffs and said we were being arrested for breaking the Covid rules.

‘I didn’t know what was going on. Dale had said he was here for work. Then the police said they were looking for keys and mentioned the jet ski. 

‘Dale went and got a set of keys. He said I hadn’t known anything about it and to keep me out of it. He kept saying sorry.’

Yesterday, when Jessica spoke to Dale in prison, he thought he had made a big mistake with her. 

She says: ‘He said he was worried that because he’d lied to me, I’d not speak to him again.’

As if! Rather than being angry, she sent him money for his phone so he could call her.

She adds: ‘I’ve had messages from all over the world. People from Italy have sent pictures of jet skis saying: ‘This is for your boyfriend, showing our support.’

‘People from Ireland have said: ‘What he did is heroic. You should marry that man.’ ‘

Will she? ‘If he asks me I’ll say yes,’ she says. ‘It’s definitely a story to tell our grandkids.’

It is certainly that, Jessica.

Link hienalouca.com

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