RNLI in appeal for missing gold medal awarded to Penlee coxswain

Lifeboats News Release

The RNLI is saddened to announce that the historic gold medal awarded posthumously to the coxswain of the Penlee lifeboat the Solomon Browne is missing and is appealing to the public for any information that will help its return.

The gold gallantry medal, which is the highest award for bravery issued by the RNLI, is one of the most precious artefacts in the RNLI’s heritage collection. It was recently found to be missing from a secure heritage store at the charity’s head office in Poole. Despite an extensive search the medal has not been found and Police have been notified of a suspected theft.

The gold medal was awarded posthumously to William Trevelyan Richards, Coxswain of the Penlee Lifeboat the Solomon Browne, which sank after going to the aid of the coaster Union Star on the night of 19 December 1981. All eight volunteer crew members were lost in the disaster, and the whole crew were awarded gallantry medals by the RNLI in recognition of their selfless bravery and sacrifice.

George Rawlinson, Operations Director of the RNLI, says: ‘We are devastated by the loss of this important part of our heritage. Not only is the medal of historical significance to the RNLI, it also has huge emotional importance, particularly to the families of the crew members who perished and the local community in Newlyn. The medal represents the great courage, commitment and ultimate sacrifice made by the Penlee lifeboat crew. To us, it is irreplaceable – our primary concern is to secure the return of the medal.’

The medal was stored in a facility with multiple layers of security. A thorough search of the heritage collection and an internal investigation has been carried out. The RNLI is now working closely with the Police and those affected by the medal’s loss.

David Welton, RNLI Heritage Manager, says: ‘Everybody in the RNLI family is deeply concerned by this incident and we would like to reassure people that we are doing everything possible to retrieve this precious object. Anybody with any information about the medal’s location is urged to contact Dorset Police quoting incident number 02:136, or to contact the RNLI direct.’

Dorset Police can be contacted at www.dorset.police.uk, via email at 101@dorset.pnn.police.uk or by calling 101, quoting incident number 02:136. Information can also be reported to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or via www.crimestoppers-uk.org  

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 in the United Kingdom or +44 1202 663234 if calling from outside the UK.

In its 192-year history, the RNLI has awarded 151 gold medals to its lifeboat crews. Only one – William Trevelyan Richards – was awarded posthumously. The medal has been compared to the UK’s Victoria Cross in its significance and recognition.

Notes to editors

An image of an RNLI Gold Medal is attached (note the image is not the medal awarded to William Trevelyan Richards).

An image of Trevelyan Richards is also attached.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Emma Haines, RNLI Public Relations Manager, on 07786 668847 or emma_haines@rnli.org.uk or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or or by email.