RNLI rejects appeal by lifeboatmen sacked in explicit mug row

The charity's decision comes in the wake of a row that included inappropriate social media activity, which caused a furore in the pages of two tabloid newspapers

RNLI Whitby (Photograph: Shutterstock)
RNLI Whitby (Photograph: Shutterstock)

The RNLI has upheld its decision to sack two volunteer lifeboat-crew members after a row about a sexually explicit mug.

The two volunteers at the lifeboat charity’s Whitby station in North Yorkshire were stood down earlier this year after the RNLI found one had produced "a hardcore pornographic image of a fellow crew member on a mug", a statement from the charity said.

The pair were given the chance to appeal, but the RNLI announced today that "following a fair and robust investigation and appeal process", during which no new evidence had been presented on behalf of the two men, it was standing by its original decision.

Media reports have said the mugs featured the face of the crew member superimposed on the body of a naked woman and was given as a secret Santa present, then found in a cupboard at the station.

The other volunteer was dismissed "for social media activity which targeted a member of RNLI staff without their knowledge and produced graphic sexual images which went far beyond banter", the charity’s statement said.

The charity has faced criticism in the media, particularly in The Sun and the Daily Mail newspapers, which both produced mocked-up images of what the mugs "may have looked like" calling them "jokey" and "saucy", with the Mail describing the charity as "drowning in a sea of political correctness".

In today’s statement the RNLI said the mocked-up images looked nothing like the original mug.

"Some newspapers created their own image of a mug, but the actual image produced by the volunteer was so graphic that no newspaper would be able to print it without breaking the law," it said.

"We recognise the years of dedication it takes to become a crew member and do not stand volunteers down lightly."

But the RNLI set high standards, it said, and expected all its volunteers and staff to set an example in their behaviour and respect for others.

"We will continue to challenge any inappropriate behaviours and practices by staff or volunteers, and we do this for the thousands of volunteers who are committed to doing the right thing as they operate our 238 lifeboat stations 24/7," the statement said.

A statement by one of the sacked crewmen, Joe Winspear, appeared on the Police Hour website shortly after the RNLI announced the results of the appeal this morning.

He said the decision was "heartbreaking" for himself and the other sacked volunteer, Ben Laws.

Winspear defended the mugs, saying they were a "light-hearted joke" by which none of the crew members was offended, and that they had been removed from the station within 48 hours of the area lifesaving manager raising a concern.

He said he believed that, in meetings to discuss the issue, the pair had been "completely disrespected" and the investigation process had cost the organisation thousands of pounds that could have been spent on saving lives.

"I feel that the punishment doesn’t reflect the situation – the mug wasn’t intended to be kept on station," he said.

"Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but it seems the RNLI doesn’t give second chances. I have been a dedicated volunteer and feel I have been made an example of."

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