A rift between the crew members and the Trustees of the Channel Islands Air Search has been revealed, after a series of documents and emails were shared with Express by one of the volunteers who has said he still doesn't understand why he was suspended from the service he was proud to be part of for so long.
James Ridout and Mike Tidd were both suspended in January amid a number of allegations including emotional and physical bullying.
While an internal investigation was carried out, Mr Tidd turned 65 which is the retirement age for CIAS crew members. The charity has in the past allowed volunteers to continue being part of the crew after that age, and Mr Tidd had intended to but he was told he wasn't needed and his suspension turned into retirement.
Mr Ridout challenged his suspension and was subject to a lengthy tribunal process which has now concluded.
Pictured: File image of the air search plane.
The current situation has seen the number of trained volunteer Crew members drop to what Express has been told is "an all time low". Mr Ridout said this situation can be traced back to the arrival of the new plane, in May last year.
"I've not formally been told why I was suspended, there have been no formal accusations levelled against me. I have continually since January requested from the trustees and John, the reasons for my suspension and evidence behind those reasons and to date I still have not received any of that."
A statement issued by CIAS this morning said the charity would not comment on matters regarding volunteer crew issues as it "neither constructive nor respectful", also adding that the service remains "fully focused on providing a safe and fully regulated life-saving voluntary search and rescue service in this, our 40th year".
Pictured: The air search hangar where a row took place which was documented in the report compiled by an Independent Panel set up to look at the suspensions.
In January of this year, the CIAS Chief Officer emailed his fellow volunteers and the Trustees to say he would be resigning after being subject to "intimidation, coercion, mental and emotional bullying and physical assault".
John Fitzgerald was persuaded to stay on and it is believed he remains in postition to date.
When Mr Fitzgerald agreed to stay on as Chief Officer, an Independent Panel was set up to look into the suspension of Mr Ridout and Mr Tidd.
Pictured: The new CIAS plane was brought to the islands last year, but the service is not thought to have assisted in any call outs since the fatal loss of the Piper Malibu flown by Pilot David Ibbotson, on which footballer Emiliano Sala was a passenger.
An Interim Report released in March by that Panel found that Mr Ridout should not have been suspended, and that he should have been reinstated as a "fully functioning member of the Crew".
The Independent Panel also found that Mr Tidd should have remained a full functioning member of the Crew until he had reached retirement age.
"The conclusion to which we have come based on our analysis of the powers and duties of the Trustees and the Service as evidenced by their respective written deeds, documents, handbooks and suchlike and consideration of the evidence of the people whom we have interviewed, is that the Trustees, or any of them acting independently of the others, did not have the authority to suspend the two Crew members, with the consequence that James Ridout remains a fully functioning member of the Crew while Michael Tidd remained a fully functioning member of the Crew until his retirement under Part A, Clause 26, of the Handbook at the age of 65" - Interim Report, Independent Panel, March 2020.
The Independent Panel acknowledged in its Interim Report that it could not force the Trustees to reinstate the suspended Crew Members, but instead encouraged all involved to work together to resolve their issues.
Pictured: The final report was shared with Express after Mr Ridout felt he could not resolve the dispute through the processes available to him.
By the time the Final Report was published on 20 April, it was clear that had not happened as the Independent Panel wrote the actions of the Trustees and certain Crew members had been unhelpful, and that the management structure had not been successful in controlling the situation.
"The Panel is of the opinion that the actions by the Trustees and certain Crew members constituted unhelpful behaviour. In our view the management structure of the Service should not have been allowed to become unbalanced by the emergence of the influence of those who, with good intention had the best interests of the Service at heart but were permitted to dominate aspects of procedure. There is every good reason for tasks and projects to be entrusted to individual Crew members, but their function should be advisory and not executive, the final decisions remaining strictly within the hierarchy of officers namely, the Chief Officer (acting with independence) and the three Senior Officers, the Senior Pilot, the Senior Search Director and the Senior Observer." - Final Report, Indepdendent Panel, April 2020.
The Trustees made the decision to see through the suspension of Mr Ridout and Mr Tidd, who had by now retired.
Mr Ridout said he has made repeated attempts to resolve the situation and has repeatedly requested conversations to be able to do that, but said CIAS has refused to sit and discuss the matter.
Mr Ridout said "I feel that I have no other option to speak openly to the public as my many attempts to speak with John Fitzgerald and Tim Robins have been refused. I've tried every avenue to resolve this internally but there are no other avenues."
The Channel Islands Air Search released this statement to Express in response to Mr Ridout's claims:
The safety of our aircraft and crew is paramount and we have rigorous operating standards and maintenance procedures in place and meet all regulatory requirements.
The safe operation of the aircraft is the responsibility of our pilots, all of whom are both highly experienced and professionally qualified and they have supported the operation since the new aircraft arrived.
Search crew act as observers and operate the search equipment on board the aircraft and given that much of this equipment is new to us, the training burden for new or pre-existing volunteer search crew is not dissimilar.
As we have previously stated, publicly to comment on volunteer crew issues is neither constructive nor respectful. We remain fully focused on providing a safe and fully regulated life-saving voluntary search and rescue service in this, our 40th year.
Pictured top: James Ridout.