RNLI closes Jersey station after split threat

A dispute centring on the dismissal of coxswain Andy Hibbs, who was subsequently reinstated, led to the St Helier crew announcing that they wanted to withdraw from the charity

The RNLI has closed down a lifeboat station whose crew had threatened to break away from the national charity and form their own independent service.

The 25-strong crew of the St Helier’s lifeboat station in Jersey announced in a statement on Facebook earlier this week that it wanted to split from the charity after a dispute in which the coxswain of the crew, Andy Hibbs, was sacked for allegedly breaching the charity’s code of conduct, but then reinstated.

In a statement published on the charity’s website today, the RNLI’s director of community lifesaving and fundraising, Leesa Harwood, said the breakdown in the relationship made it "impossible" to continue running the lifeboat station and it would be closed.

She said it was "a sad day", but the decision had been reached after meetings with the St Helier crew and discussions between herself, the chief executive and trustees.

"It’s with regret that we have made the difficult decision to close the St Helier lifeboat station for the immediate future," Harwood said.

"It is impossible to run a station when the relationship with the RNLI and crew has broken down to this extent."

She said the crew had made it quite clear they wanted to set up an independent lifeboat station.

"In the interim period, while they pursue that aim, I do not believe that they can fully commit to the RNLI," she said.

"I no longer have confidence that the station can be run without constant challenges and without constant threat of crew resignation."

The crew had been stood down, Harwood said, and the RNLI had notified the coastguard that there was no longer a declared RNLI search-and-rescue service at St Helier.

The lifeboat station and shop in St Helier would be closed and secured and the station’s Tamar class lifeboat would be moved to Poole, she said, while plans were made for the future.

Harwood said she wanted to reassure the Jersey community that the other Jersey station, the St Catherine lifeboat, remained open and the charity would be doing everything it could to restore an RNLI all-weather lifeboat service to the island as quickly as possible.

"I would like to thank the St Helier crew for their service to the RNLI and recognise their time and commitment over the years," she said. "It has been very much appreciated."

The dispute appears to have begun in April after the RNLI sacked Hibbs for allegedly breaching the charity’s code of conduct, reportedly after being accused of launching a lifeboat to help a broken-down vessel without permission from the coastguard.

This led to the whole crew resigning and public protests at the decision, before the charity reinstated him after a review and apologised.

But in the statement on Facebook earlier this week, announcing the plan to split, Hibbs said he and his crew had decided to leave the national body because of "unacceptable treatment", which he said was not a local problem but a national one.

"Sadly we cannot go on like this any longer," he wrote. "It affects not only us but also all of our families.

"This has been going on for months, and I feel we deserve a lot more respect from an organisation for whom we risk our lives and give up our evenings, weekends and our family time."

Hibbs did not respond to Third Sector’s request for comment in time for the midday deadline.

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