Hastings community leaders condemn ‘blocking of RNLI lifeboat’ by people angry at them rescuing refugees

Community leaders have spoken of their shock and outrage following claims Hastings RNLI lifeboat was blocked from going out to sea by people furious at them for saving the lives of refugees in the Channel.

A group of people on Hastings beach reportedly shouted “horrible” abuse at the RNLI volunteer crew as they tried to launch their lifeboat near the harbour arm. 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. I want to make it clear that the RNLI are not facilitating illegal immigration, but are performing their function as a life-saving service and people must let them carry out their duties. I wholly condemn the actions of those individuals who have sought to obstruct them from doing so, although it is important that their concerns are listened to and taken into consideration as part of the wider debate about illegal immigration.”

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.”

Police confirmed a “disturbance” took place following claims the lifeboat was blocked from going out to sea by people on Hastings beach. People shouted “horrible” abuse at the RNLI volunteer crew, according to a caller to James O’Brien’s LBC radio show on Thursday (November 25). 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.”

Lifejackets worn by the 40 people who arrived on Hastings beach earlier this month

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.

“The lifeboat was going out and the fisherman was carrying his fish down behind the boat. The lifeboat was launching from the east side of the harbour, and the fisherman’s boat was on the east side of the harbour and he was already there,” Mr Joy said. “The fisherman concerned was carrying his fish down to throw back in the sea - the small, undersized stuff which you should do, and the lifeboat man shouted out, screamed at him, ‘get out the way’, and he said, ‘who are you talking to?’ and that erupted into a row. But he was on his own, and the person who was having a go was a lorry driver.”

He said the RNLI called the police and the matter has now been sorted. “I actually did go to the lifeboat house and spoke to the police and everybody was okay, and the lifeboat agreed that they would speak more candidly to the fishermen...and treat them with a little bit of respect. That’s all they want - to be spoken to in the right way.”

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.” 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.”

Zoe told James O’Brien’s LBC radio show she was on the beach, near the harbour arm, with her boyfriend on November 20, when they “heard the lifeboat station opening up and thought ‘oh they have a call’ and started watching.” She said as the “lifeboat crew pulled the boat out and were going to go into the water”, a group of people “stood directly in the line of the boat so the boat couldn’t be put in the water.”

“Are you sure?” O’Brien asked her.

“I’m absolutely sure, the police were called,” she replied. “It really shook me to the core and we thought of it yesterday night when we saw the news that people had passed away again.” (A reference to the 27 people who drowned crossing the Channel on November 24. They included seven women - one of whom was pregnant - and three children.)

On Thursday evening, an estimated 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 week, 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. RNLI crew helped them on to the shore near the harbour arm in Hastings Old Town. They were met by police stationed on the beach and later handed over to Border Force officials. Volunteers from Hastings Supports Refugees handed out hot drinks, food, warm clothing and blankets to the group - from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and various African countries.

On November 11, local businesses helped 53 people who arrived on Hastings beach after being rescued by lifeboats in the Channel. The group - including several children - were handed over to Border Force officials. In total, 1,185 people crossed the Channel by boat to reach the UK on November 11, a new record for migrant crossings in a single day.