LochWatch comes under fire from Loch Awe users

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A co-founder of Loch Awe LochWatch has defended the charity he helped to set up following a barrage of criticism on the group’s Facebook page last week.

Iain MacKinnon, Oban Coastguard station officer, formed the volunteer group, along with Murray Humphries, in response to a tragedy in which four men died on the loch in 2009.

The group was awarded registered charity status in 2013 and bought a patrol boat which in 2014 was fitted out with a radar. State-of-the-art night vision and a body heat sourcing device were also purchased thanks to funding and charitable donations.

Over the summer, however, loch users have become increasingly concerned over the lack of sightings of the patrol boat and, on further investigation, it has been discovered the group has failed to provide information on its finances to the Scottish Charities Register (OSCR) within the stipulated nine months of its financial year-end date.

Steve Tapley, chairman of Pike Anglers’ Alliance Scotland, said: ‘There have been many concerns voiced by loch users relating to the Loch Awe LochWatch charity and nobody feels they are getting straight answers.

‘Most just want to know why the patrol boat isn’t on the water patrolling.

‘This is a charity that has been funded by members of the public, loch users and the families of the men who died there in 2009. The longer LochWatch remains silent, the worse it will get.

‘We, the loch users, want to help but we don’t seem to be getting any response from the people who are supposed to be running it.’

Mr MacKinnon, who is also a senior environmental health officer with Argyll and Bute Council, admitted last week that he has ‘taken my eye off the ball a bit’, but said the group is working with the relevant people to get things back on track.

‘Concerns raised regarding our charity number are currently being addressed and the matter is being dealt with by our accountants,’ he said.

‘We have been in touch with OSCR since last May and a report to the AGM in February will include audited accounts.

‘I am as passionate about LochWatch as I have ever been. The charity is run by volunteers who give their time freely. We currently have around 100 volunteers, many of whom carry out roles of LochWatch spotters and live in close proximity to Loch Awe.

‘Anyone who wants to volunteer with us can get in touch through our Facebook page.’

Mr MacKinnon added that ‘significant changes’ within the emergency services over the past year have resulted in the introduction of a water rescue unit at Oban fire station which can be launched anywhere at the loch and can be deployed quicker than the patrol boat.

‘Our boat is run by volunteers and the current crew all live and work in and around Oban,’ he added.

‘This has been the case for a while as there was no-one more local to the loch available. However, in the past few weeks, two people who live near the loch have come forward to volunteer as crew.

‘We have a good relationship with the emergency services and work alongside them when any situation arises. Awareness and getting a safety message out to people is also a big part of our work and we have had great success on that front.’

Meetings are taking place this week to decide on a future plan for the LochWatch patrol boat.