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Tribute to 'huge character' Philip Pearce-Smith who set up League of Venturers rescue group for youngsters

Philip Pearce-Smith
Philip Pearce-Smith

THE founder of a Waterside search and rescue group for youngsters who was made an MBE for services to the community has died aged 88.

Philip Pearce-Smith, from Holbury, set up the Lepe-based League of Venturers in 1961 with his late wife Pamela following his retirement from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Calshot RNLI, paying tribute to Philip – aka Tiffy – on Facebook, described him as a “huge character” who “endeared himself to many with his kind heart and commitment to the cause”.

The crew continued: “Often outspoken, Tiffy dedicated a huge part of his life to the Venturers, providing opportunities to youngsters for many years.

“Some of our current crew even came through the Venturers ranks, and all will have fond memories and life skills to share from their time under his command.

“We will fondly remember his pleasant eccentricity and occasional visits to the station for a chat. To you Tiffy, we wish you fair winds and following seas.”

For 50 years, Philip, who was also a former Scout leader, led teenagers on land and sea rescues, and has been credited by some former members with keeping them on the “straight and narrow”.

The Venturers went to the aid of crew whose boats had got into difficulty out on the Solent – one weekend, as previously reported in the A&T, the team attended 10 such incidents.

They were also a recognised Red Cross Youth Action Group, providing a Land Rover ambulance for events such as the New Forest’s Boxing Day Point-to-Point and school cross country events.

However, it was not always an easy passage for the Venturers, and they were accused of getting in the way of operations run by other rescue groups.

When made an MBE in 1999, Phillip, then aged 66, told the A&T: “I have a splendid and well-trained team of youth men and women who are a credit to British youth.”

However, relations turned sour within the group when Phillip launched a legal battle in 2012 to reclaim £28,000 he claimed to have loaned it.

He had stepped down from the Venturers in 2010, handing the reins over to new trustees including Martin Bennett, but had continued to involve himself in the organisation’s affairs and a power struggle ensued.

The Venturers was eventually wound up when it could not find the funds to pay a £70,000 court bill to Philip, who had vowed to enforce its liquidation.

In 2016, Southampton County Court had ordered the charity pay £22,876 to Philip and cover his £45,000 court costs.

He said at the time: “Action has been filed by my solicitors to the courts to take them into compulsory liquidation.

“I feel very sorry. Here is an organisation I devoted 50 years of my life to. Now it’s all gone up the spout.”

The trustees had accused Philip, a former Fawley parish councillor, of pursuing a “personal vendetta” against the charity, saying at the time: “We wanted him to retire gracefully and with dignity, but he’s found it difficult to let go.”

With the battle raging in the background, Philip and his son Robin launched a new rescue group called the Young Explorers’ Foundation, again for teenagers.

The team patrolled the New Forest during bad weather, rescuing motorists trapped in floods. It is understood that group was dissolved in 2015.

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