William Riley
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Tyneside Troubles

The William Riley had been scheduled to depart from Tyneside leaving on a four stage fundraising row to recreate the journey undertaken by the motor lifeboat Henry Vernon to assist those aboard the stricken hospital ship Rohilla in 1914. Greater details of this event can be found on my fundraising page.

It was something I wanted to witness for myself given the connection to the Rohilla and my wife and I were invited to stay overnight at a family descendant of Robert Brownlee, the Henry Vernon's 2nd Coxswain. Excited we set of for Tynemouth, looking forward to the departure the following morning. During the evening the wind could be heard building amongst incessant rain and the departure looked in doubt. The next morning the weather was quite poor but given the restrictive time scales the trust had in order to make it possible for the William Riley to arrive at Whitby on the Sunday it would have had to have been far worse. Knowing that I would be submitting selected photographs to the local newspaper (Whitby Gazette), I called them to advise them on the present conditions, one of the reporters asked when I would be back home at my computer so that I could e-mail some images to them.

We made our way to the lifeboat station, knowing that we would not get any sort of welcome from the trust but planned on staying out of the way so as to not create any needless tension. When we got there we walked alongside the station were three of the Tyneside crew personnel were standing. I introduced myself as a lifeboat enthusiast wanting to get some photographs of the William Riley some of which I would be sending to the Whitby Gazette. One of the crew started to escort us round to where everyone was and was going to introduce us to the trustees, I simply said that I was a trustee and knew them.

Jekyll & Hide

As we rounded the corner Peter Thompson was seated on a bench and initially he didn't seem to bother. Unlike Mr. Charlton who sped over to the lifeboat crew that had walked with us taking her around the corner, after she came out Mr. Charlton took Peter Thompson round the same corner. Soon afterwards he came storming over to us and berated us quite harshly, he started by saying that he could not stop us from following them (the trust) but that he objected to us sneaking around putting photographs in the Gazette! I defended my actions telling him quite abruptly that there was nothing sneaky about how I submitted photographs to the paper. It is a simple manner of  taking a CD-ROM into the front office and leaving it for one of the reporters, an easy task for anyone to do, how that can be defined as sneaky is beyond me! It didn't get any better and his mood intensified to a point where he told us in no clear terms that we should not even be there and that we were not there for the Gazette in any way?  We tried to explain that the Gazette knew we we at Tyneside and that I would be submitting photographs to them he more or less implied we were lying. My wife knew the telephone number for the paper and reeled it off to him as I told him to ring and check it for himself.

That's when he launched into a sermon about how I had no right to even submit photographs to the paper, or that I should not have had my front page photograph. I knew he was stressed over one of my photographs making the front page but I had no idea just how badly it was affecting him. I told him that anyone is free to do so and that I did not have any say on what images are actually used. He went on to direct me that he had spoken to the editor informing them that in the future they were to consult with him before printing any photographs of the William Riley, his explanation being that the trust wanted only their photographs used, I think he actually felt that he had control over when, if and which images the paper were permitted to use? I asked Mr. Thompson if he had taken the liberty of explaining this new guideline to Alan Wastell, a colleague of mine who is a freelance photographer for the newspaper. Mr. Thompson closed on me so that his face was barely inches from mine and he told me that "Alan is a professional whilst I was only an amateur"! I may be an amateur in that I do not photograph for a living or indeed for any reimbursement but I am still professional in my approach to taking photographs, it was fairly crude for him to imply otherwise, but not really unexpected.

Clearly flustered, he went on to tell me that after what I had done to the trust that I should not even be there, although I did protest that it was rather what he had done that was the root of the problem. He told me that I had walked away from the boat of my own volition, I only replied telling him he had forced me to walk away. I could see it going round in circles and told him that I was not prepared to go into that as it was irrelevant to 'today'. I am thankful that I was able to retain more composure than he was as he was rapidly beginning to make a spectacle of himself, possibly because I was not willing to react to his commands and leave. His closing comment was to point at the boat below us in the water and tell us in a deepening mood look, no one in whitby could have done a job as good as that as if that excused his arrogant actions, his behaviour was quite inept and most certainly not one would expect from a man of his apparent standing, and as if that was not harsh enough, worse was to follow.

Whitby Woes

The Rohilla's bell was located in July and taken to the lifeboat station where the serving Coxswain Mike Russell had spent a considerable amount of time cleaning it up. I had a friend coming over for the lifeboat weekend and I knew he would have loved to have seen the bell for himself. Whilst waiting for him to come round to the station from the bandstand I showed my son the bell, leaving him to have a good look at it. Mr. Charlton's partner Ms. Sara Shrives approached the bell as if he was not supposed to be anywhere near it. It was then that I noticed Mr. Charlton standing by the end of the fish pier. I hadn't thought there would be any trouble as I fully expected Mr. Thompson and the remaining trustees to be up the coast at Staithes with the William Riley.

Shortly afterwards Ms. Shrives took it upon herself to approach one of the lifeboat personnel demanding that my family and I be removed from the RNLI forecourt somehow implying that I was not permitted to be on its land? I have yet to receive any notification from the RNLI and frankly I was quite saddened to know that Sara felt so strongly, I believed her to be more impartial, apparently this is not quite the case.

Ms. Shrives was extremely disappointed to be told that we were permitted to be there and that if she had a problem with us being there or wanting us to move off the pier that she should approach us herself, which she obviously didn't. We were not staying for the William Riley to arrive at the station, as we had made plans to be part of the small flotilla escorting the former lifeboat into the harbour. I know selected members of the trust vehemently dislike me but it surprises me to what lengths they will go to try and bar me from any involvement whatsoever with the William Riley. In many ways if it were not so serious it would be quite farcical knowing they will seemingly stop at nothing, that is with the exception of using at least one of my photographs on their website? It seems somewhat hypocritical to me to attempt to restrict my legitimate freedom to take photographs of the William Riley and submit them to publications of my choosing, then actually go and use one of the very same mediums, bizarre or what?

My future with the William Riley

For me the official unveiling and then the fundraising row were the climax of the whole restoration project. From now on its use in the harbour or on remedial displays is something that will be easy to replicate in the future. I exposed many hundreds of frames as the boat was being restored at cost to myself, something I had no qualms in doing as the William Riley forms an integral part of the Rohilla's history, albeit a small role.

If one thing above all stands out from my experience with the trust it is that I was happy to be counted as a trustee and that my principles allowed me to walk away with my head held high when it became ever more political and most definitely questionable! I discharged my duties as a trustee with a vigour that am proud of, never failing to stand up for what I believed in and not afraid to move forward in the face of indifference or abject intimidation. In one of many e-mails from Mr. Thompson he himself likened my empathy to his way of working as being not too dissimilar to a dictatorship, his words not mine!