The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has said the story of parents who sent them a £7 bill for a destroyed inflatable lilo after their child rescued from the sea was "an anecdote from the 1980s".

Mike Carter, president of RNLI’s Porthleven & District Branch, told a recent meeting about rescuers scrambling a helicopter off Porthleven, Cornwall after a girl drifted out to sea.

According to his account, a crew member jumped into the water and saved the child and both were winched to safety - but the lilo was left in the water and the girl’s parents later sent the RNLI a £7 bill for its cost.

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After being issued by multiple news agencies, the story was reported by a number of outlets including The Independent as having taken place recently.

But a spokesman for the RNLI said the incident took place decades ago.

"The story about parents sending the RNLI a bill for a £7 lilo is in fact an anecdote from an incident which happened back in the 1980s – it is not a recent incident," he said.

"The anecdote was recounted in passing at an event in the south west at the weekend and has since been incorrectly reported as a recent occurrence."

 Mr Carter had told the local branch meeting: “A family visiting Porthleven purchased a lilo from a local shop and went to the beach.

“There was an off-shore wind and the parents immediately experienced their child waving goodbye as the lilo went further and further out," said Mr Carter.

“The coastguard scrambled the SAR helicopter which was soon on scene.”

Mr Carter said the rescuer who jumped into the water “instantly put a knife through the lilo to save any further drifting.”

The girl’s parents apparently sent an invoice to the branch two weeks later. The RNLI said they would pay, if the couple paid for the £7,000 rescue mission.

 ”Two weeks later the commanding officer (CO)... received a request to pay an invoice for £7 the cost of the lilo,” Mr Carter said.

“The CO wrote replying, ‘I will be happy to pay your invoice on receipt of payment for the helicopter rescue [which is] £7,000.’ No response was received.”

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The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it had no record of the incident.

It had urged the public not to use inflatable lilos in the sea, in a warning issued last week.

“Keep your floating friends for the pool...they can also pose a danger when up against strong currents and wind, sweeping you out to sea,” an agency spokesperson said.

  • This story was amended on 14 August to reflect the clarification issued by RNLI

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