The RNLI and the former St Helier coxswain have been criticized in an independent report, according to the Jersey Evening Post, which said that it had got hold of a draft copy of the investigation into the collapse of the St Helier lifeboat service last year.
Guernsey Harbourmaster Captain Chad Murray states in the draft copy that the UK-based RNLI failed to properly manage the station for years and should never have investigated an informal complaint about coxswain Andy Hibbs. This ultimately triggered the breakdown in the relationship between the charity and local crew. Mr Hibbs in turn is described as a leader with too much power, which led to a ‘toxic culture’ where crew members were afraid to challenge his decisions, the report claimed.
The investigation adds that the decision by the crew to stand down in April following Mr Hibbs’ dismissal was apparently not unanimous – but no crew member was willing to speak out, partly due to alleged cyber-bullying on social media. When contacted by the Jersey Evening Post, Mr Hibbs described the report as ‘total and utter rubbish’. He said that Captain Murray had not interviewed the crew during his investigation, and added: ‘How he has come to this conclusion is beyond me.’
The draft investigation claims that relationships within the Jersey search and rescue community appeared to have deteriorated over a period of at least a decade. Last year the then Harbourmaster, Captain Phil Buckley, made an informal complaint to the RNLI chief executive that Mr Hibbs had ‘self-launched’ the inshore lifeboat on October 28th 2016 without being requested by the Coastguard. The RNLI investigated that complaint and found that proper procedures had mostly been followed. However, during the investigation the RNLI also found what it described as significant breaches of the volunteer code and that this had led to a breakdown in working relationships. Mr Hibbs was stood down. The crew then walked out in protest.
The crew returned to duty later in the year after Mr Hibbs was reinstated– but relationships continued to deteriorate, leading the RNLI to close the station and take the all-weather lifeboat back to Poole in November.