Lifeboat volunteer who made hoax emergency calls to gain experience is sentenced

A man who made hoax calls to the coastguard when he was a lifeboat volunteer to increase his chances of being selected to be on a rescue crew has been sentenced.

Leon Marandola, 20, made hoax calls over a two-month period between June and August 2019.

Marandola, who had joined the Buckie RNLI team as a volunteer in May 2019, admitted breaching the Communications Act by knowingly providing false information during an earlier hearing at Elgin Sherriff Court.

The calls led to the coastguard sending out helicopters, coastguard rescue officers and RNLI lifeboats at an estimated cost of about £170,000.

Prosecutors said Marandola made the calls while he was near the lifeboat station to increase the likelihood he would be asked to join the rescue crew and gain more experience.

The 20-year-old, from Buckie, Moray, was told he must carry out 240 hours of unpaid work and be under supervision for two years when he was sentenced at Elgin Sheriff Court on Tuesday, the Crown Office said, while a Restriction of Liberty Order was also imposed on him.

The coastguard welcomed the sentencing.

Coastal Operations Area Commander, Ross Greenhill, said: “Hoax calls are taken extremely seriously as they tie up vital life-saving resources and risk taking them away from those who are actually in grave danger which could have serious consequences.

“As in this case, we will always work with the relevant authorities to fully investigate and seek a prosecution if we suspect hoax calls are being made.

“This case stands out because the offender is someone who wanted to work alongside emergency services to help people and prevent loss of life at sea.

“Each time he made a false report, he put the safety of his fellow volunteers at the RNLI and HM Coastguard at risk and let down his local community.

“We hope the sentencing today makes others think twice before making false calls to any of the emergency services.

“Putting the lives of members of the public and of emergency services colleagues at risk will never be tolerated.”

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The RNLI condemned the behaviour of those who make hoax calls.

An RNLI spokeswoman said: “Calls of this nature, where the perpetrator knows no life is at risk, not only waste time and resources but also endanger the lives of those who could need our services, only to find them unavailable or unable to reach them in time.

“As an organisation we are, of course, disappointed that these calls have been made by a person previously connected to our lifeboat station, the person is no longer a volunteer with us.

“We are a charity founded upon and driven by our values of selflessness, courage, dependability and trustworthiness, and these are values we expect all our people, both volunteers and staff, to live by.

“We are, as always, proud of our crews who drop anything to save lives at sea and we thank local communities for their continued support of our service and also local employers who allow our volunteers to leave their work in order to save lives.”

Andy Shanks, Procurator Fiscal for Grampian, Highland and Islands, said: “Leon Marandola’s actions tied up emergency resources and put members of the public and his own colleagues at unnecessary risk.

“This prosecution should serve as a warning to others that we take this type of crime seriously.

“We will continue to work with police and partners to bring these cases to court.”