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News / Community service for coastguard hoax caller

David Williamson arriving at court on Wednesday moring.

A YOUNG MAN from a Shetland fishing community who triggered a major land, air and sea search after making a hoax call has been sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

Lerwick Sheriff Court heard on Wednesday morning that 19 year old David Williamson, of Millbrook, Symbister, on the island of Whalsay, had already repaid a substantial sum towards the emergency services which had spent almost £13,000 on the operation.

In court today, defence solicitor Neil McRobert said his client wanted to apologise for what he had done.

Williamson had been told at an earlier court hearing that he might avoid being sent to jail if he could clearly demonstrate his remorse.

Mr McRobert handed a letter from the RNLI to the court as evidence that a large sum towards the overall cost had already been paid.

He added that in addition his client had offered his services to the local coastguard volunteers and had also set up a standing order with the intent to pay back the damage he had caused in full.

The coastguard search and rescue helicopter, the Lerwick lifeboat and volunteer coastguard team were called out at 6.15am on 3 October, a Sunday morning, after Shetland Coastguard had received a call from Williamson saying that a well known local man had fallen from the visiting Fraserburgh fishing vessel Crystal River.

It took the emergency services more than an hour to realise that they were dealing with a hoax. Later the same day coastguards were called out again, this time to a genuine emergency.

The court had heard at an earlier hearing that Williamson had made the call after a 12 hour drinking session.

On Wednesday, sheriff Graeme Napier said that he was satisfied that Williamson’s remorse was genuine, and he would therefore spare him a prison sentence.

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“You made arrangements to make yourself available for the valuable work of the coastguard. I am also satisfied that it was not your father’s money that was used to make the payment.”

But he warned Williamson that “in no way” should he see the conclusion of the court case as an example of “how to buy yourself out” of his responsibility.

“I take it I will not see you in court again”, the sheriff asked, to which Williamson quietly replied “No”.

Afterwards, the RNLI and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency used the opportunity to reiterate their message that the emergency services should not be misused.

Richard Smith of the RNLI’s Scottish head office in Perth said: “The RNLI’s mission is to save lives at sea, but on this occasion we spent two and half hours between the time the crew’s pagers went off until the time the lifeboat was back and ready for service again out after the malicious hoax call.

“This person was incredibly stupid. If we had another call at the same time, which was a real emergency, somebody else’s life could have been at risk, and he would have to live with that on his conscience for the rest of his life.”

John Webster, the MCA’s sector manager for Shetland, added that lives had been put at risk unnecessarily.

“The lesson that can be learned from this is that you don’t misuse any of the emergency call procedures whether that be radio, telephone or pyrotechnics. 

“The consequences of anybody misusing this, of course, could ultimately lead to somebody losing his life,” Mr Webster said.

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