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The STRIFE boat! Welsh rescue station out of action for six months after volunteers accused RNLI staff member of ‘bullying’ and anti-English ‘racism’


A lifeboat station has been out of action for six months after volunteers accused an RNLI staff member of ‘bullying’ and anti-English ‘racism’.

They also say the charity ‘effectively’ sacked them over the dispute, in which a manager was said to have behaved inappropriately.

The base in Pwllheli, an upmarket town on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, has been unable to dispatch rescue crews since August.

A key incident in the dispute was when a volunteer was left feeling ‘unsafe’, ‘isolated’ and ‘very uncomfortable’ when a paid staff member only spoke in Welsh while out on a ‘shout’, or rescue, during rough conditions. 

They said: ‘He knew I did not speak Welsh and I think he was doing it deliberately. I am not the only one in the crew who does not speak Welsh.’

Other volunteers raised concerns that the employee would make crew ‘feel unsafe on board’ as no one could ‘challenge him, question him or go against him in any way’.

The base in Pwllheli, (pictured) an upmarket town on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, has been unable to dispatch rescue crews since August

The base in Pwllheli, (pictured) an upmarket town on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, has been unable to dispatch rescue crews since August

A key incident in the dispute was when a volunteer was left feeling 'unsafe', 'isolated' and 'very uncomfortable' when a paid staff member only spoke in Welsh while out on a 'shout', or rescue, during rough conditions

A key incident in the dispute was when a volunteer was left feeling ‘unsafe’, ‘isolated’ and ‘very uncomfortable’ when a paid staff member only spoke in Welsh while out on a ‘shout’, or rescue, during rough conditions

Heidi Bakewell, 48, a crew member of five years, said the issues could have been resolved if the station had 'strong leadership'

Heidi Bakewell, 48, a crew member of five years, said the issues could have been resolved if the station had ‘strong leadership’

Last month, all volunteers were stood down amid what the charity called a culture of 'distrust and disharmony' at the base

Last month, all volunteers were stood down amid what the charity called a culture of ‘distrust and disharmony’ at the base

The RNLI launched an internal investigation into the accusations, which were deemed ‘unfounded’. However, it accepted there were ‘learning points’ – including around use of Welsh language.

But a group of seven volunteers criticised the charity, saying they received no other details of the inquiry’s conclusion. ‘They told us to verbally accept the outcomes or leave – or be forcibly stood down. We cannot appeal the outcome,’ one said.

Last month, all volunteers were stood down amid what the charity called a culture of ‘distrust and disharmony’ at the base, as ‘a last resort action to enable a full reset’.They were then ‘invited to re-apply’ for their positions.

Heidi Bakewell, 48, a crew member of five years, said: ‘If we’d had strong management, they’d have sat everyone round a table and this could easily have been resolved.… We have been effectively sacked, but unlike with a full-time job, we’ve no right to an appeal or arbitration.’

The volunteers also said minutes were not kept of investigation interviews or meetings between volunteers and management, against Charity Commission recommendations. However, an RNLI spokesman said that records were taken ‘in all investigation meetings’. They added: ‘During less formal crew meetings, actions would be recorded.’

The row followed the controversial departure of two senior volunteers from the station, who had decades of experience between them. Since the investigation, four other volunteers have quit in ‘disgust’.

The RNLI said ‘relationships had broken down irrevocably’ at Pwllheli, making it unsafe to run a service. Last week, the charity said it was restarting training and hoped to resume operations next month, having re-recruited 19 volunteers.





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