The lifeboat station which walked out in protest at the sacking of its skipper has become the first to tell the RNLI they want to split from the charity and go it alone. The St Helier crew on Jersey stunned charity representatives at a meeting when they signaled their intentions to abandon them.
The move will be the first time in the RNLI’s 193-year history that a crew has taken such drastic action.
It is the latest twist in a stormy year for the St Helier station which began when popular and long-serving coxswain Andy Hibbs was sacked in April.
He was accused of breaching the charity’s Code of Conduct by launching a lifeboat to reach a broken down vessel without permission from the coastguard.
Mr Hibbs claimed he was the innocent victim of a witch-hunt by the RNLI. His entire 25-strong crew walked out in protest and hundreds of locals turned out in support.
The veteran of 20 years was reinstated with full apology after a successful appeal three months later but the crew’s relationship with the charity has not recovered.
And at a meeting at their island HQ on Albert Quay on Monday night crew members announced their intentions to shocked charity representatives.
They are now working to move forward with the divorce process but have vowed to continue to man the lifeboat while it is finalised.
In a statement the crew said it was looking to run the service independently, saying its relationship with the charity is broken.
They have not yet publicly explained how they will fund themselves after leaving the national charity. The crew said they have decided to split because of the RNLI’s handling of the Hibbs row and its aftermath.
They also claim that the charity’s efforts to work with the crew and to rebuild trust have failed.
In a statement they said All the crew are volunteers and between us have over 250 loyal years of service to the RNLI.
The St Helier Lifeboat Station has a proud tradition, however, given the RNL’s apparent lack of respect for its volunteers and its unwillingness to make changes despite the undertaking to work with the crew at the time of reinstatement, we feel the relationship in its current state is broken.
The crew said they had seen no evidence of the charity wanting to rebuild a good working relationship after the reinstatement of their coxswain and claimed the reasons for the sacking, and details of the RNLI’s investigation, have not been released.
In addition, they said they had lodged an official complaint on another matter, which had not been upheld.
The statement added We feel that there has been no evidence of the proposed ‘working with the crew to rebuild the relationship’ and we are now simply being threatened with RNLI policies and procedures and told to in effect ‘do as you are told’.
This has left us in a very difficult position.
Mr Hibbs, 45, was dismissed over what was described as ‘serious breaches of the charity’s code of conduct’.
His entire crew launched a mutiny claiming he had been bullied out of his job.
That left Jersey – surrounded by some of the UK’s most treacherous waters – without a dedicated all-weather lifeboat crew for several days.
The RNLI sent six relief crews from the mainland to provide cover for the island.
The full reasons why Mr Hobbs was sacked have never been released by the RNLI. He said the RNLI were stunned by his station’s divorce announcement.
He said They were not expecting that. Our reception was a bit liked what you’d expect if Donald Trump went to North Korea.
They were totally shocked. They said a crew has never done this before. They want another meeting on Friday with the crew and other representatives to move forward.
Leesa Harwood, the RNLI’s director of community lifesaving and fundraising, said We’re going to go away and think about that and look for a way forward.
Stations move in and out in time, but it is unusual [for them to go independent]. All we want to do is save lives.
It’s been a really challenging time. We’ll think about the charity and come up with some proposals.
The other lifeboat crew on Jersey, based at St Catherine, intend to stay part of the RNLI.
The RNLI has 237 lifeboat stations and operates 444 lifeboats and rescues on average 22 people a day.
It needs to raise around £150 million a year to operate which it does mostly through legacies and voluntary donations.
News Source TelegraphNews