Police investigate Hastings RNLI lifeboat ‘blocking’ by people furious at them rescuing refugees

Police are investigating a “disturbance” on Hastings beach where people reportedly blocked a lifeboat crew from going out to sea.

A group of people near the harbour arm are said to have shouted abuse at the Hastings RNLI lifeboat volunteer crew for saving the lives of refugees crossing the Channel in small boats. The incident came just days before 27 people drowned in the Channel - including seven women, one of whom was pregnant, and three children.

A caller to James O’Brien’s LBC radio show said people shouted “horrible” abuse at the Hastings RNLI volunteer crew on November 20. Zoe, from Hastings, told the presenter she witnessed the group blocking the RNLI lifeboat and shouting, “don’t bring any more of those home, we’re full up, that’s why we stopped our donations, and that kind of really horrible stuff.”

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News of the incident appeared in newspapers across the country and sparked outrage on social media from people furious the RNLI crew were “blocked” from launching out to sea on an emergency call-out. Some pointed out that obstructing or hindering RNLI crew is an offence under the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006, and contacted Sussex Police on Twitter to ask what they are doing about the Hastings incident.

Hastings RNLI lifeboat. Photo by Sid Saunders. SUS-210914-094751001

Sussex Police replied: “Enquiries are ongoing. Anyone who has information which could help police with their investigation is asked to report it online or call 101 quoting serial number 889 of 20/11.” Earlier this week, it appeared the force had dealt with the incident and no further action was going to be taken. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “Just after 4pm on Saturday, November 20, police were made aware of reports of a disturbance near to the Hastings RNLI Lifeboat Station. A police officer attended the scene while also being supported by colleagues monitoring the situation on CCTV. No arrests were made.” A spokesperson for the RNLI told the Hastings Observer: “We can confirm an incident was reported to the police. The lifeboat was able to launch and the station remains on service.”

Hastings community leaders have spoken of their shock and outrage about the incident. Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart said: “It is unacceptable under any circumstances for people to block RNLI boats from going to sea whenever and wherever they are needed. Those working as part of the RNLI are heroes, and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for the hard work that they do day in, day out throughout the year.” A spokesperson for Hastings Borough Council said: “We were shocked and disappointed to hear that an incident had taken place which delayed the launching of the lifeboat. The RNLI, who are all volunteers, are doing an incredible job working to save the lives of those who need rescuing from the sea. We hope this was a one-off and that the lifeboat will not be delayed in its launch again, whoever they are going to rescue.”

Paul Joy, chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, said the abuse had nothing to do with Hastings fishermen. He said the lifeboat decided to launch on the east side of the harbour arm - rather than the west side where it normally launches - and found a fishing boat was already there. This escalated into a “row”, but he said this had nothing to do with refugees being rescued in the Channel - it was the way the lifeboat crew spoke to the fisherman involved. He said there was a lorry driver on the beach who “had words about immigrants” to the lifeboat crew, but nothing was said about refugees by the fisherman.

On November 25, around 250 people gathered on the Stade in Hastings Old Town to hold a moving vigil for the 27 people who died when their boat capsized.

Last month, businesses and local people were thanked for helping 93 people who arrived on Hastings beach after being rescued by lifeboats in the Channel. One group - 35 men and five teenage boys - spent two days at sea in a small dinghy before they were picked up by Hastings RNLI inshore lifeboat on November 16.