A Whalsay teenager who sparked a major rescue operation after making a hoax mayday call has been given the chance to avoid a prison sentence.
David Williamson, 19, of Millbrook in Symbister, sent a misleading message at the end of a 12-hour drinking session over the Crystal River‘s VHF radio as she was berthed at Symbister Harbour.
The Sumburgh-based coastguard search and rescue helicopter was scrambled as a result of the hoax.
The Lerwick lifeboat was sent to the scene and the Whalsay coastguard team was also mobilised to help carry out a search, in an operation which cost a total of £12,930.
Later that day, emergency services were involved in a genuine emergency at Sumburgh Head, when somebody went over the cliffs.
Williamson had been socialising with friends the night before at the Whalsay Boating Club, where they had met up with the Crystal River‘s skipper.
The group had repaired to the vessel to continue drinking into the night.
It was as he was leaving the boat sortly after 6am that Williamson picked up the VHF handset and broadcast the message.
He stated “Mayday, Mayday”, before giving the boat’s name and location and stating that a man was overboard.
His friends were not with him when he made the call, as they had already left the vessel by this time.
Williamson, on meeting up with his friends, told them he had sent a message – although he did not say what the message was.
It was only when one of Williamson’s friends heard the rescue helicopter from his home, and saw it hovering over the harbour, that he realised what had happened.
He quickly phoned Williamson’s home and told his father, who went to the harbour area to tell the rescue team they were dealing with a hoax.
Williamson had been facing jail for what he had done.
However at Lerwick Sheriff Court today defence agent Neil McRoberts said Williamson had shown great remorse and wanted to pay back the cost of the false rescue operation.
Urging Sheriff Graeme Napier to spare him from a custodial sentence, he said Williamson was in a position to pay £2,500 within two weeks as a “downpayment”.
He then wanted to take steps to repay the outstanding balance.
He added Williamson was “fit and able” to carry out the maximum term of community service – 300 hours – that was available.
Mr McRoberts said the incident had been intended as a “joke” or a “prank”, and an “act of bravado”. However Williamson had never intended the rescue operation to be launched.
“He did not set out that day, or enter the wheelhouse, with the intention of causing everything that followed thereafter,” he said, insisting Williamson’s judgement had been “clouded” by drink.
Sheriff Napier was not convinced he could impose a compensation order, as there was no “direct victim” for Williamson to pay compensation to.
He cited a case where a compensation order made in favour of Women’s Aid was not held to be competent.
However he deferred sentence to allow Williamson to make some recompense.
“This was a very dangerous thing that you did. To you it may just have been a foolhardy moment, a drunken escapade, but you come from a community from which you should have learned previously the very important role these agencies provide in saving or attempting to save the lives of people in genuine distress. What they don’t need is people playing about with the mayday system.”
Williamson will appear in court again on 27th July. His bail was continued.