Trio get Covid fines after being rescued from abandoned forts

Urban explorers break lockdown rules to explore abandoned Thames forts – but are caught when their inflatable boats float away and they have to be rescued by RNLI

  • Friends decided to visit Red Sands Forts in Kent after seeing them on TV show 
  • Stuck there overnight and rescued the following morning – Sunday – by RNLI  
  • Men were greeted onshore by police landing party who fined them £200 each 

Three urban explorers were fined for breaking Covid rules after they got stuck on an abandoned fort in the Thames Estuary and had to be rescued after their boats floated away.

The trio – one of whom had come all the way from Manchester – visited the WWII-era Red Sands Forts near Whitstable and ended up being stuck there overnight.

After failing to flag down passing boats the men eventually accepted they would have to call the Coastguard and were rescued by the RNLI on Sunday morning.

An RNLI captain points to the Red Sands Forts near Whitstable while approaching them on Sunday to rescue three men who had got stuck on them  

They were greeted onshore by a landing party of officers from Kent Police who fined them £200 each.

The group decided to visit the Second World War structures – also known as the Maunsell Forts – after seeing them on a TV programme.

After being slated by people on the RNLI’s Facebook post, one of the men stepped forward to admit they were ‘idiots’ who should have never broken the rules.

Ben Marklew offered his ‘sincerest apologies’ and said he and his two friends had made a large donation to the RNLI.

He wrote: ‘I’m one of the idiots that was involved in all of this at the weekend. I’m posting here for two reasons.

‘Primarily to apologise and express our gratitude to all the people and organisations involved. Namely the RNLI, HM Coastguard, Port of London Authority and Kent marine police.

‘Also to the Redsand Project who work to preserve the forts and don’t need kn**heads like us interfering.’

Mr Marklew, who claimed to be an ‘adventurer’ rather than an urban explorer, said he wanted to ‘expel the myths’ about what happened. 

The men appear to have climbed into the interior of the forts, where they spent the night before being rescued 

A Kent Police boat found the men’s inflatables drifting in the sea – leading to local rumours about who had been inside 

‘We are not foreigners – one of us was from Manchester so that could be classed as foreign, I will let you pass your judgement!’ he said.

‘Our RHIBs (boats) have been recovered. We did spend the night there. We were not cold. In fact one of us slept in our pants inside a down sleeping bag.

Red Sands Forts: Britain’s line of defence against Nazi attack from sea and air 

The Red Sands Forts were built in the Thames Estuary at the height of the Second World War in 1943 and still tower above the waves just seven miles off the coast of Whitstable in Kent.

The huge metal Maunsell gun towers, which were constructed to help gunners shoot down Nazi aircraft heading to the houses, factories and docks of London, have been abandoned since they were decommissioned in 1956.

The forts, which are four miles off Whitstable, were named after their designer Guy Maunsell.

The towers are large installations with seven steel platforms, five of which carried guns arranged in a semi-circle around a control centre and accommodation.

Three sets of Maunsell Forts were built in the Estuary to the same design – the Nore forts off the coast of Sheerness, which have now been demolished, and the Red Sands and Shivering Sands forts, further out.

These bastions were assembled after the main London Blitz and they jointly shot down 22 enemy aircraft, 30 V1 flying bombs, and also accounted for a U-boat – undoubtedly saving hundreds of lives.

The seven towers of Red Sands were placed approximately six miles off Minster, Isle of Sheppey, over the period July 23 to September 3, 1943 and each fort became home to 265 men, from both the army and the navy.

They have since been home to pirate radio stations and have also been used for filming, including Dr Who.

‘We waited till the morning to alert the Coastguard as that’s when we realised our vessels were adrift.

‘We have made a £1,000 donation to the RNLI. We have also made a £2,000 donation to the Redsands Seafort Trust.

‘We received a Covid fine each. Hindsight, a wonderful thing. If we could turn back time we wouldn’t attempt this selfish mission.

‘The idea was to spend the night on the forts and return the next day without ever a soul knowing.’

Mr Marklew insisted he and his friends were ‘experienced boaties’.

He continued: ‘We didn’t break in but used drones and rope access as method of entry. We had GPS radios and SAT phones.

‘We realise the boats were missing Sunday morning after the cleat had failed on the bow line and the aft line had chafed on the Fort when the direction of pull had changed.

‘We spent a while trying to hail and call local vessels as to not impact on the RNLI. We were also aware of our duty to report the adrift vessels and as such the coastguard scrambled the RNLI.’

The RNLI team from Sheerness in Kent launched their boat The George and Ivy Swanson to rescue the trio at 9am on Sunday.

An RNLI spokesman said: ‘Launching at 8.57am with a crew of six the ALB arrived on the scene at 9.28am and soon located the three young men who were then removed from the tower and taken onboard the lifeboat which then returned to the Lifeboat mooring in Sheerness docks.

‘The lifeboat arrived back on station at 10.05am where they were met by members of the Sheppey Coastguard Rescue Team and Kent Police.

‘The three young men said that they had become stranded on the Red Sand towers after their two RHIB craft had gone adrift on the tide.’

Their boats were found drifting by a Kent Police boat.

On Facebook, several users said Mr Marklew had been brave to hold his hands up and accept he and his pals had done wrong.

One said: ‘Fair play fella, you ballsed up but put your hands up.’

But others still slated him.

Ian Winson said: ‘Two ribs adrift and not phoned through! So another search rescue for users could have been started on finding empty boats.’

Mick Brett said: ‘Make them pay for the cost of the rescue service.’

The Red Sands Forts were built in the Thames Estuary at the height of the Second World War in 1943 and still tower above the waves just seven miles off the coast of Whitstable

The forts, which are four miles off Whitstable, were named after Guy Maunsell who designed them for use as defence against Nazi raids by sea and air in the Second World War.

The towers are large installations with seven steel platforms, five of which carried guns arranged in a semi-circle around a control centre and accommodation.

They have been home to pirate radio stations and have also been used for filming, including Dr Who.

The lifeboat team also joked that one of the men they rescued had left his car keys in his drifting boat, adding: ‘The owners will be relieved, one left his car keys in his boat….!!! Will be able to drive back to Manchester now….!!!!!’ 

The forts, which are four miles off Whitstable, were named after Guy Maunsell who designed them for use as defence against Nazi raids by sea and air in the Second World War. Pictured is the interior of one of the forts  

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