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Shetland coastguard officers gagged

COASTGUARD watch officers threatened with losing their jobs should the Lerwick station close are furious at being stopped from giving oral evidence to a government inquiry.

The House of Commons transport select committee is taking evidence in Stornoway next week and coastguard officers from Shetland had planned to attend.

But late on Tuesday officers were instructed by Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Allan Massey to decline the invitation.

PCS union officials said on Wednesday it appeared that the instruction was based on advice from shipping minister Mike Penning.

Shetland coastguard PCS representative Bob Skinley said that the move was little short of scandalous.

“We are very disappointed and indeed angry at being silenced in this way.  Clearly both the MCA and the government are fearful of what we might say about these dangerous, ill-informed and ill thought out plans that seek to devastate the coastguard as we know it,” he said.

“Clearly, ‘freedom of speech’ does not exist if you are a civil servant. Is their case so weak that it cannot withstand public debate?”

In December the MCA published proposals to overhaul the way the coastguard in the UK works, leaving Scotland with one full time station in Aberdeen supported by a day time only service in Lerwick or Stornoway.

Mr Skinley said that Shetland coastguard representatives would still be travelling to Stornoway as it will give them a brief opportunity to talk to the select committee in private before they begin their public evidence sessions.

According to press reports, the chairwoman of the transport select committee Louise Ellman MP has condemned the move by the MCA.

In a letter to the minister, she is reported as writing: “Your decision is in stark contrast to your previous public statements on this matter and the assurances that you have given to me and other MPs.”

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