Report concerning events before and after the removal of the RNLI St Helier lifeboat from service in November 2017.
Recommendations: Sir David Calvert-Smith
In response to an attack from the Chairman of Ports of Jersey:
“This was the Chairman of PoJ. His letter verged on the abusive. It suggested that I had come to factual conclusions on certain of the events contained in the ToR which were biased and illogical. For the record I reject that assertion. I have sat, and still sit, in one judicial capacity or another for nearly forty years. No party to any case in which I have been the judge, or one of the judges, has ever accused me of bias.”
The Chairman of Ports of Jersey is Mark Chown.
Who was ultimately responsible for the complaint that escalated to the detriment of everyone.
“Two matters arise which could perhaps engage the attention of a government looking back at these events and trying to ensure that such problems are dealt with better in future.
a. The previous unwillingness of the Deputy Harbour Master (Bill Sadler) /senior management of PoJ of Jersey to account for its actions (in reporting the complaint to the RNLI and then providing it with evidence etc) and the reasons for them to the States, to me, or to the public at large is surprising and worrying, I would suggest, for the future. As I understand the position PoJ, clearly a key public body in an island country like Jersey, is funded to some extent by the public and of course carries out public services. I have no idea even whether PoJ referred the issue to its responsible minister at the time as he has declined to assist with this inquiry beyond the statement I have referred to above and I have heard nothing from PoJ on this topic. On 7th January 2022 – following my first approach to the current Harbour Master on 16th August 2021 and the letter sent to him from the Chief Minister’s Office in March 2021 he indicated that he was not prepared to assist my inquiry.
b. “There must be a need for future ministers to keep the States and thus the public informed of such events and the reasons for them, whether or not the direct/executive responsibility for particular services lies with a Jersey public authority or an outside body such as the RNLI. Was the possibility even that “pagers might be left on the table”, thus withdrawing the St Helier lifeboat from service for an unknown period, known to PoJ, to those in the responsible ministry, to the minister himself, to other ministers or the Chief Minister? If not, what should be done to try to ensure that that never happens again? If it was, what did those who knew about it do to try to avoid the possibility? This general topic may well benefit from future examination. Whether such examination requires a full-blown public inquiry or other means is ultimately a matter for the government of Jersey.”
Why did Ports of Jersey (and politicians) not want an inquiry?
“Mediation or an inquiry would have been a more sensible way of trying to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion than leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the RNLI. However, the role of PoJ would certainly have come under scrutiny in such a process – in particular its apparent failure to check on the false information which had led indirectly to the dismissal of the coxswain in April 2017.”
Ports of Jersey exposing the Public to “unacceptable risk”
“The RNLI and, I infer, PoJ and, possibly, members of the government, from where the complaint had originated which led to the dismissal of the coxswain, may have known of the possibility that ‘pagers would be left on the table’ and thus expose the public to an unacceptable risk while a replacement crew was recruited or sent out either to cover waters with which it was unfamiliar or to spend additional time on shore learning RNLI procedures etc, is a matter of concern. The question of whether PoJ, or its responsible minister could and should have done more to prevent it is shrouded in mystery.”
The complete vindication of Andy Hibbs in relation to his suspension
“An email from the Deputy Harbour Master (Bill Sadler) to the Harbour Master (HM), concerning the incident earlier that year in which a person had been drowned, in early November 2016 contains the words “I give up, they (clearly a reference to the lifeboat crew) are impossible”
“It is said by a number of those who have described this meeting that when the recent Star Tern incident was mentioned during the conversation the Deputy HM (Bill Sadler) was “visibly embarrassed”. Those at the meeting with him now attribute that embarrassment to the knowledge that the complaint which led in due course to the dismissal of the coxswain had already been made to the RNLI but not yet aired.
The allegation against Andy Hibbs was false. The question of whether it was knowingly false (i.e. malicious) remains unanswered.
“The involvement, or lack of it, of responsible ministers during this period would be worth investigating in order to discover if possible what role the government of Jersey played and to point the way to better handling of such a problem in future. The unwillingness of those in post at the time to assist with this topic thus far may not inspire confidence in the current Chief Minister that a similar situation would be dealt with any differently in future.”
The inappropriate role of Deputy Luce
“The States appointed Mr Luce to look into the matter. This move caused concern among the now former lifeboat crew since he had been and his sons now were, fellow crew members of the St Catherine’s RNLI lifeboat with the person referred to earlier as being the likely source of the mistaken complaint of self-launch in 2016.”
On why the Government did not want an Inquiry
‘It could get messy’. Mr Luce is said to have said that if there was an inquiry he would ‘have to consider his position’.
The stance of the Chief Minister (Senator Gorst) – initial letter to the JLA
This letter made a number of incorrect allegations. Why was he misled, and who misled him?
“The crew, following the reinstatement of the coxswain in June 2017, had shown that they did not wish to be cooperative. – The crew had made the decision to “go independent” when their complaint against the RNLI person was rejected. Finally, the letter effectively warned the JLA not to criticise the RNLI and stated that there was no question of removing the RNLI from St Helier.”
The Wall of Silence
“Messrs Gorst, Farnham and Luce. Mr Luce did respond to a request from me for further information concerning particular events in the history – in particular the subject of ToR 4, and that response was a “holding response”. His role in the days leading up to the dismissal of the crew and subsequently was obviously very important. Without any input from him to explain his actions before during and after 17th November it is hard to come to any firm conclusions as whether, and if so how, the government of Jersey should have handled the situation differently. I presume – though I have no clear information from him and none at all from the then Chief Minister – that he was at all times acting under the supervision of the Chief Minister. Since then he has indicated that he does not wish to contribute to this inquiry. Mr Farnham replied as follows: ‘the dispute was caused by a personal disagreement the details of which I do not know. I would have been prepared to mediate if called upon to do so. I do not believe an inquiry is necessary or a wise use of public resources in our current circumstances.’
“When presenting a draft of this report to the Chief minister I was asked to venture an opinion on whether the Government (Ministers and senior officers) acted as a neutral facilitator. The almost complete “wall of silence” erected by both to the requests from the current Government in March 2021 and subsequently from me make it impossible to come to a final conclusion. The weight of evidence now before me suggests that more could have been done by the government to try to prevent the breakdown which led to the withdrawal of the ALB for a significant period but the lack of cooperation of the then responsible ministers with this preliminary inquiry makes it difficult to reach a firm conclusion Only an inquiry with powers to compel answers from those concerned could enable conclusions one way or the other to be drawn.”
“Clearly the fact that the island was left without all-weather lifeboat cover was then, and is now, a matter of great concern, and the questions of whether responsible Ministers knew that it was going to happen, and the role, if any, of PoJ, in the process likewise.”
“The – totally secret – communications, if any, between PoJ and the RNLI throughout this (and the whole) period are a matter of great concern and should be of similar concern looking to the future.”
Key Question for Politicians
“It is that PoJ should not in future be able to operate behind closed doors with no accountability for its actions so that private arrangements whether between old friends/colleagues or otherwise concerning a key public service – even if they were made with the best of intentions – should be eliminated if possible or exposed.”
Sir David Calvert-Smith’s Concluding Thoughts
PoJ seems to enjoy a status unbefitting a body which supplies crucial services to the public of Jersey and has thus – with the limited exception of the recent draft letter from the Harbour Master – so far been unwilling to explain its state of knowledge or its actions in connexion with the events of 2016-8.- b. That although ultimately the actions of the RNLI are beyond the reach of the government of Jersey it is reasonably clear that the government, in particular the responsible ministers at the time, were kept informed by the RNLI of its intentions both in April and November 2017 and could perhaps have done more to prevent the consequences of the RNLI action which left the island without ALB cover for significant periods and has resulted in the current situation of 2 such lifeboats. The almost complete silence from that quarter to my requests for assistance does not inspire confidence for the future.
Note: The current Government has declared it’s intention to be open and transparent. However the Report has been available for publication for many months and the decision to publish on the day of the Jersey Battle of Flowers is of some concern.
Recommendations of Former Chief Minister John Le Fondre
The issue at hand is not about the sea. It is about governance.
The report produced by Sir David has raised a number of recommendations for the next Council of Ministers. From my perspective, I consider there are five key areas for future improvement which I hope future governments will consider (as well as the detail remarks from Sir David):
- Firstly, the Freedom of Information Law 2011 does not currently incorporate Ports of Jersey. The States Assembly has previously agreed that the FOI law should be extended to PoJ and other ALO’s via P.149/2014. This Council of Ministers has reiterated the point and expressly agreed that the FOI law should be extended to Ports of Jersey (in keeping with enacting the decision of the States Assembly back in 2014). Accordingly, direction has been given for legislation to be drafted, (which will need to respect commercial confidentiality), and which will be presented for the new Assembly’s consideration in due course.
- Secondly, the process of commissioning this report has underscored the importance of an inquiries law. Jersey Law does not currently provide for public inquiries and investigations have to date been commissioned either by the States Assembly or, in this case, by the Chief Minister. The Government undertook a consultation on the proposed Public Inquiries Law in 2021 and proposals are in hand to bring to the States Assembly later this year. The overall delay being due to the impact of the pandemic. The proposed new law must provide a more robust framework for the set up and delivery of independent public inquiries, including matters related to management of data and financial spend. It will also be important to ensure that future inquiries are furnished with the appropriate resources and powers that they may require, and also that there is scope to ensure that small scale inquiries can be easily and quickly implemented.
- Thirdly, this report has highlighted the important role the Government must play in acting as an honest broker. The Government clearly has a duty, in any mediation to endeavour to act impartially and professionally when arbitrating disputes and ensure that it cannot be accused of failing to act on such an impartial basis at any point in the future. This must be to ensure that all parties in a dispute can have confidence in Government to act independently, and without bias. Given the lack of submissions from some of the relevant figures at the time, it is difficult to make a specific suggestion as to what should have been done. However, future Councils of Ministers should take steps to ensure that the Government acts with appropriate impartiality if called to mediate in future disputes. This needs to be a mindset amongst both politicians and officials from the very start, and should cover all aspects, including any undertakings given / promises made; the use of venues for meetings etc etc. Similarly, it is essential that anyone tasked with an investigation, such as this preliminary report, be objective, impartial and has no conflicts of interest. This is especially important in a small Island community such as Jersey and our neighbouring Islands. Sometimes it will not be sufficient in what is likely to be a small community even within the Channel Islands as a whole, to bring in someone from another Island to investigate and report. Officials should expressly consider whether this is sufficiently impartial, and should also take account of who commissions a report, again from the perspective of being seen to be without bias. I believe that Sir David has demonstrated these qualities throughout his report focusing on the available evidence provided to him and not on preconceptions.
- Fourthly, in the course of considering this preliminary report, it has struck me that the regulatory arrangements surrounding maritime search and rescue could merit further review. Specifically, at face value, the Air and Sea Ports (Incorporation) (Jersey) Law 2015 appears ambiguous over the powers afforded to Ports of Jersey with regards to the regulation of maritime search and rescue. Article 6(1)a of the Law refers to POJ’s responsibility over ‘co-ordinating’ but does not, at first glance, seem to explicitly reference ‘regulating’ maritime search and rescue activities : “(a) co-ordinating, or providing resources for co-ordinating, maritime search and rescue within the Jersey Search and Rescue Region;”I would suggest that this should be reviewed and, if necessary, the law revised to clearly demarcate the authority provided to Ports of Jersey. Furthermore, it may be appropriate for the responsible Minister to consider the practicability of Ports of Jersey maintaining both a regulatory and operational function. From the perspective of what is known as ‘segregation of duties’ I do not see how one body can perform both operational and regulatory functions. It could potentially mean that a body is in essence ‘marking its own homework’. This is, I should stress, an initial observation, and could be subject to change, but it is of sufficient importance that I believe it does warrant the attention of the next Minister. I would suggest that such a review is conducted across the relevant Arm’s Length Organisations where incorporated bodies hold similar overlapping responsibilities.
- Fifthly, as an observation, it does not feel right, that a report can be produced in relation to a complaint about an individual ; that may be used as evidence / rationale in arriving at a decision about that individual ; and that individual does not have some form of right to see the full contents of that report, and to comment thereon.
The Report highlights a “Wall of Silence” from Ports of Jersey, and an attitude verging on the abusive. Certainly there are serious deficiencies within an organisation making heavy losses whilst paying generous bonuses.
The less than transparent attitudes of the organisation, its unwillingness to accept criticism, and it’s devious manner of operation should be of serious concern to all Jersey taxpayers. For an organisation that itself needs significant oversight and control to be allowed to operate for so long without any meaningful political oversight is of a major risk to the Island.
The Harbours and Airport are key parts of Jersey Infrastrucure and should be moved to the responsibility of the Infrastructure Minister. Key players in this debacle – Mark Chown, John Mills, and Bill Sadler – have some very serious questions to answer.
Any audit of the Jersey Lifeboat Association assets must in future be carried out by independent bodies as to Coastguard is a co-ordinator, not an auditor. As it currently stands we have been told by Bill Sadler that the JLA must undertake another comprehensive audit by him and his colleagues, and our very existence is in his hands.
When the JLA has previously asked about apparent errors by the Coastguard in a Search and Rescue Mission, we have been met with both a “wall of silence” and “know your place” attitude. We are independently audited by the YDSA Certifying Authority, and this should be sufficient for the Coastguard.