A group of people near the harbour arm are said to have shouted “horrible” abuse at the Hastings RNLI lifeboat volunteer crew for saving the lives of refugees crossing the Channel. Some tried to block the vessel from launching out to sea on an emergency call-out, it is claimed. Sussex Police confirmed they are now investigating the incident - which happened on Saturday, November 20, just days before 27 people drowned in the Channel - including seven women, one of whom was pregnant, and three children.
News of the Hastings lifeboat “disturbance” prompted a massive backlash on social media, with many making donations to the RNLI to show their support for the charity, which is 95% manned by volunteers and has saved 140,000 lives at sea since it was formed nearly 200 years ago. Some said the negativity shown towards the RNLI had prompted them to set up a monthly donation to the charity.
Sharon Maes tweeted: “I live near Hastings. Have donated and asked others to donate. You are an amazing charity.” Investigative journalist Jon Danzig received a thank you from Hastings Lifeboat Station when he told them his readers had raised over £3,000 for the RNLI after they heard how “brave volunteers came under attack for saving the lives of refugees in peril”. Another Twitter user, FourthDrawerDown, said: “I got shouted at in a supermarket yesterday for wearing one of your RNLI masks. Will it stop me wearing it? - No. Will it make me donate some more? - Yes.” Amanda GW tweeted: “Already donate to you. When I read about what happened at Hastings, went online and spent £50 in your shop. Thank you for all the amazing work you do.”
When contacted by the Hastings Observer, Hastings RNLI said it would not be able to share “any specific data regarding donations we’ve received lately and what exactly they were in relation to”. But it said it had been “truly moved” this week by “messages of kindness and generous donations in support of our lifesaving work in the Channel”.
Some people on social media 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. 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.” Last week, it appeared the force had dealt with the incident and no further action was going to be taken. On November 30, 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.”
Last week, Hastings community leaders spoke 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.”
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.