It’s emerged that the whole dispute between the RNLI and former St. Helier crew was sparked when two crew members “fell out over a relationship with a woman.”
The claim was made in a strongly-worded rebuff from the Jersey Lifeboat Association (JLA) to a report into the ongoing lifeboats saga by Captain Chad Murray.
The JLA claim that tensions with the RNLI were in fact sparked by the charity’s handling of the crew members’ dispute over the woman. They state that this led to “something of an ongoing enmity between some members of the St. Helier and St. Catherine RNLI crews.”
As a result, the new lifeboat organisation has branded Deputy Steve Luce – the Minister who has been politically mediating the situation due to his experience volunteering with the St. Catherine’s crew – as “conflicted.” Instead, they claim that Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham should handle the matter, as he has responsibility for search and rescue services.
Pictured: The JLA claim that Deputy Steve Luce, the Minister politically handling the lifeboats dispute, is "conflicted" due to his previous work with the St. Catherine's RNLI crew.
The JLA say that the true version of events is contained in a report they commissioned, written by former police officer Keith Perchard.
His report says the issues date back to 2015 when Mr Hibbs took a stand against a new paid mechanic’s position within the lifeboat station that was allegedly made without consulting the crew.
Mr Perchard’s report highlights this as the start of the breakdown of trust between Mr Hibbs and the RNLI, but that a rescue of a distressed vessel ‘Lecume ll’ north of Bouley Bay on 7 January 2016 was labelled as a “trigger point.”
Both the St Helier Lifeboat and the States tug, the Duke of Normandy, went to help and there was a dispute over which one should tow the vessel back to safety, which allegedly continued later on social media.
That was followed by the case of Joy Godfray, who tragically lost her life in rough sea conditions at Green Island on 20 August 2016.
The JLA report states the Lifeboat Medical Officer, Dr David Howell was on board the lifeboat and gave first aid to Miss Godfray. The Coastguard had arranged for an ambulance to be ready for her at La Rocque, but a decision was taken by the lifeboat’s Coxswain, Andy Hibbs, that it would be “far too dangerous” to land there during rough conditions, and instead he made a decision to take the boat and Miss Godfray back to St. Helier instead.
Pictured: Andy Hibbs after he was reinstated as coxswain by the RNLI.
Next, on the 8 November 2016, the JLA report says the Harbourmaster Captain Phil Buckley, who has since stepped down from his post, made a complaint about Andy Hibbs directly to the CEO of the RNLI, Vice-Admiral Paul Boissier CB. MA. MSc. who he knew from serving together in the Royal Navy.
The complaint was about another ‘self-launch’ - this time to the east of the island. The JLA report says that Andy Hibbs had got authorisation for this launch, and a subsequent RNLI investigation found that no further action was required, but there were “critical relationship issues between individuals and the island’s Search And Rescue organisations that need to be addressed to prevent a potential loss of life at sea.”
The JLA report says that Mr Hibbs felt these “new issues” were further evidence that he was under “sustained attack.”
From there, the issue escalated with Andy Hibbs demanding a copy of an RNLI report into his case, which he later received in redacted form, with the author commenting: “It is my reasonable belief that a personal feud between [redacted], Andy Hibbs and [redacted] has existed for numerous years that is affecting professional working relationships.”
What followed was a severe heightening of tensions as Mr Hibbs was dismissed and re-instated, which ended with the RNLI’s decision to stand down the whole crew, and temporarily close the lifeboat station, taking the George Sullivan Lifeboat back to Poole for servicing.
The JLA report has been officially submitted to the States by Senator Sarah Ferguson, a supporter of the Jersey Lifeboat Association, calling for the States Assembly to agree to a full Committee of Inquiry. This debate is scheduled for 20 March 2018.
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