The sacking of two long-standing volunteers who rescued a runaway car has led to the closure of Hope Cove coastguard station until at least Christmas.

Richard Clarkson and Ian Pedrick, who have more than 60 years of experience between them, were dismissed for using their own vehicle and equipment to rescue a car which had rolled down a hill towards a cliff edge.

Ian, 59, said the entire Hope Cove coastguard station has now been closed until “at least Christmas” because of inadequate cover – which could put lives in danger.

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) said the rescue was "unsafe" and "placed the officers at unnecessary risk".

The duo was part of a rescue team sent to the scene of the runaway car, but were stood down after the vehicle came to rest further down the slope and no lives were in danger.

The two volunteers then changed out of their coastguard uniforms and used Richard’s personal Land Rover and equipment to tow the car back from the edge of a cliff at Bolberry Down near Salcombe.

But they were deemed to have committed a technical breach as they were still on duty – only because the coastguard vehicle, which they didn’t use, was still at the scene.

Hotel owner Ian has been in the service for 42 years and followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

He said: “It is devastating as being a coastguard was in my blood. They have closed the coastguard station until Christmas at least as they don’t have enough people to run it.

“There are six others apart from Richard and myself and they are being split between Bigbury and Prawle.

“There is no cover at all now at Hope Cove and the two other stations are at least half an hour away.

“None of them know the area they are now expected to cover.

“I have been in it for 42 years, and Richard has been in it for around 15 years.

“That is a lot of experience to lose. This has been shown by the need to close the coastguard station as a result. What are they playing at? It is absolutely ridiculous.

“The decision could cost someone their life but in their eyes, I am sure it won’t be their fault.”

“They say they have been told the rescue using a Land Rover and specialist equipment was not in their remit, and their membership of the coastguard had been withdrawn.

“Both former officers from the Hope Cove coastguard have submitted appeals against the decision.

Ian added: “I have no idea why they have acted like this. We only did something to help a bloke out and got ourselves in a lot of trouble.

“At worst we should have been given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again.

“We were stood down immediately after the job but dismissed at a meeting on Monday.

“But the call had been made within a day. We have done lots of jobs, including rescuing people from cliffs, people that have fallen off a cliff, we have picked up bodies, rescued lots of dogs and helped in searches for missing people.

“I once won an award for rescuing horses. We did not use any coastguard equipment during the recovery.

“But because the coastguard vehicle was still at the scene it was deemed we were acting as the coastguard.

“We are appealing on the grounds of unfair dismissal. They have changed our name now to members from employees.

“But we get a P60 and as far as I am concerned, we are employed.

“We are on call 24/7 and are probably out about four hours a week. We have had a lot of support from the community who are as shocked as we are which has been great.

The duo were both paid volunteers at the time of the incident on June 20.

The owner of the car, who has not been named, said he was “appalled” the two men had been sacked and described the dismissal as a “total overreaction”.

Sean Hassall, who co-owns a local business near Hope Cove, said: “The station is an important community asset, and I don’t think it will ever reopen.

“There could be a call-out out any day now, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency had better be on their toes."

Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston has come out in support of the duo, tweeting: “Ian and Richard deserve medals for their decades of dedicated service to the coastguard, not this appalling dismissal.

“I have spoken to the MCA to ask them to reconsider and reinstate.

“We cannot afford to lose their courage and expertise.”

The MCA said in a statement: “Two Coastguard rescue officers based at Hope Cove Coastguard rescue team have had their membership withdrawn.

“The incident involved two coastguard rescue officers attempting to carry out an unsafe recovery using an untested rope tied around a bumper of a privately owned vehicle at Hope Cove.

“In these situations, our safe systems of work dictate that we cordon off the area to prevent members of the public from jeopardising their safety or risking their lives.

“This breached our safe systems of work and placed the officers at unnecessary risk.

“The officers were on official Coastguard duty and wore Coastguard uniforms.

“The Maritime & Coastguard Agency has taken the decision to temporarily suspend operations from Hope Cove Coastguard Rescue Team, this will allow the current members of the team to undertake training and gain experience with flank teams.

“We would like to reassure the public that there is no reduction in the quality of search and rescue provided for that area, which is adequately covered by Bigbury and Prawle Coastguard Rescue Teams.”