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Lifeboat trustee unlawfully denied appeal, court rules

A former trustee at a lifeboat organisation on Lough Neagh was unlawfully denied the chance to appeal against the holding of a statutory inquiry into its affairs, a High Court judge has ruled.

Madam Justice McBride found that the Charity Tribunal for Northern Ireland was wrong to refuse Trevor McKee and remitted the case for a hearing of his challenge.

In 2013 Mr McKee was removed as a trustee of Lough Neagh Rescue amid an internal dispute.

Five of the organisation's crew members were also ousted - but later reinstated on appeal.

Action was taken against the six following a inquiry by Northern Ireland's Charity Commission.

The watchdog said its investigation was focused on issues about the historic administration and governance of Lough Neagh Rescue.

The charity operates a 24-hour volunteer lifeboat service from two stations on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in Ireland or Britain.

In February this year the Charity Tribunal refused to extend time for Mr McKee to seek to appeal the Commission's decision to open the statutory inquiry in 2013.

Acting as a self-litigant, he challenged that determination at the High Court in Belfast.

Mr McKee, who denies any wrongdoing, argued that the Tribunal failed to give weight to the unique circumstances of the case and incorrectly interpreted the relevant legislation.

Backing his case, Madam Justice McBride found that the Tribunal took an irrelevant matter into account.

She also ruled that it had been wrong to decide Mr McKee did not have a good reason for the delay, and erroneously struck his case out for lack of standing.

"I find that the Tribunal erred in law in the exercise of its discretion and reached a decision which no reasonable tribunal would have made when it refused permission to appeal and refused to extend time for appeal," the judge said.

"I remit the case to the Tribunal to hear the substantive appeal."

Outside court, Mr McKee, accompanied by fellow lifeboat volunteer Gregory Burke, vowed to press ahead with his legal fight.

He said: "I now intend to go back to the Charity Tribunal to challenge the lawfulness of the inquiry into Lough Neagh Rescue."

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