RNLI volunteer sentenced after making hoax emergency calls to gain experience

A man has been sentenced after making false and malicious calls to HM Coastguard. The cost of these call outs has been estimated to be in the region of £170,000.

Leon Marandola, 20-years-old, has been ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work and given a two-year supervision order. A restriction of liberty order has also been imposed.

Marandola pleaded guilty to making 19 hoax calls at an earlier hearing at Elgin Sherriff Court. The hoax calls were made during a two-month period between June 17 and August 25 2019.

According to the Press and Journal, Marandola sent messages he knew to be false through VHF radio, 999 calls and Facebook posts, flagging that vessels or people were requiring rescue at sea.

In one instance a helicopter crew was diverted all the way from Stornoway to the north coast whilst dealing with an emergency.

Marandola’s solicitor said it was his lack of experience which was the motive for the calls to his hometown crew.

“His hope was that he would be in a position to assist should the need arise.

“Whilst volunteering with the organisation Mr Marandola felt somewhat adrift, so to speak, with regards to forming relationships with others while working at the station.”

The solicitor suggested the defendant felt he “didn’t have much to do” as the others with more experience were consistently picked to respond to calls, hence his motivation to force needless call-outs.

“The calls would hopefully, in his mind, require the assistance of the boat being launched with him upon it.

“He didn’t take into account that would have a detrimental effect on the RNLI should they be called to a genuine emergency.”

Marandola tried to cover his tracks by making up a fictional character who he tried to pin the blame on.

The hoax calls led to HM Coastguard sending out helicopters, coastguard rescue officers and RNLI lifeboats to save lives when in fact no one was in any danger. The cost of these call outs has been estimated to be in the region of £170,000. This figure doesn’t account for the wages of volunteers that may have been lost due to call outs, the HM Coastguard operations room costs or the costs to any merchant or industrial ships that may have been diverted by HM Coastguard to assist in the searches.

But the true cost of Marandola’s actions could have been much worse than monetary and could have cost someone their life, says a HM Coastguard statement.

In May 2019 Marandola had joined the Buckie RNLI team as a volunteer.

“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,” says coastal operations area commander Ross Greenhill.

“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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