Arbroath’s sacked RNLI operations manager claims secretly leaked WhatsApp messages from a private crew chat were responsible for his downfall in the row over a replacement town lifeboat.
Alex Smith was axed by the charity in June for his outspoken stance against the decision to replace Arbroath’s all-weather Mersey-class lifeboat with an Atlantic 85 inflatable.
But the 68-year-old has criticised RNLI bosses for their response to his request for information relating to the sacking.
He says the charity delivered “40 pages of black ink” in his bid for answers.
And the former fisherman is still waiting on the outcome of a bullying complaint he lodged through an independent whistleblowing hotline in the weeks leading up to his dismissal.
The RNLI has said the response Mr Smith received is entirely in line with data protection rules.
Mr Smith spent 14 years in the lead role of Arbroath RNLI operations manager before the storm over the decision not to allocate a £2.5 million Shannon-class all-weather lifeboat to Arbroath blew up.
At his dismissal showdown in June with senior Scottish RNLI management he was presented with a WhatsApp screenshot from a crew chat.
“As a crew we had a WhatsApp group, like many people do,” he said.
“That was our private group, not an RNLI one, but someone leaked it and passed it on.
“That was used to dismiss me and I wanted to know what other material they had and what part it may have played.
“Of course I understand the need for data protection in relation to other people.
“But they have given me absolutely nothing to indicate what they believed was sufficient to end my career.
“There is virtually nothing on there relating to me personally.
“There was so much redacted that what I basically got back was 40 sheets of black ink.”
On page reveals a headcount of the crew for or against the new inshore Atlantic 85.
All names apart from Mr Smith’s are redacted but it reveals 11 against the new plan and just six in support.
But at that point on June 20 there were 17 crew yet to make a firm commitment either way.
Whistleblowing complaint remains unanswered
Weeks before he was stood down, Mr Smith also made a complaint of bullying and intimidation by senior management.
It was lodged through the independent Safecall system, a whistleblowing line the charity itself advocates.
“I was unhappy with the treatment I received from senior figures after the coastal review decision,” said Mr Smith.
“That complaint was lodged with Safecall in June and so far I’ve heard nothing. It’s typical of the way this whole thing has been handled.”
The RNLI said the documents Mr Smith received were entirely in line with procedure and data rules.
“A subject access request only entitles an individual to a copy of their own personal data, therefore any third-party data is redacted in documents provided,” said the spokesman.
“As this is a personnel issue, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the case.
“The RNLI relies on strong leadership and expects its senior volunteers to set an example for others, not just in terms of their maritime expertise, but also in behaviour and respect for others.
“This is reflected in our Volunteer Code of Conduct which asks volunteers not to ‘participate in any form of inappropriate behaviour or activity when volunteering or act in any way that brings the RNLI into disrepute’ and any breaches of our codes of conduct will not be tolerated.
“We do not stand volunteers down for simply disagreeing or making appropriate challenges to decision-making.”
Arbroath lost a number of long-serving crew in the fallout from the decision to allocate an Atlantic 85 to Arbroath after years of being promised the advanced all-weather Shannon.
One of the high-speed rigid inflatables has been on familiarisation trials during the summer.
The 220-year-old station is set to hold a recruitment day later this month to try and boost crew numbers hit by the controversy.