HE’S the controversial figure who stayed at the helm of a busy sea rescue group for 50 years.

Philip Pearce-Smith is 79 and announced last year that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

But the man described by friends as a “loveable eccentric”

shows no signs of giving up.

The former senior Scout leader is launching a new rescue service operated by teenagers.

The Young Explorers’ Foundation will patrol the New Forest during bad weather and rescue motorists trapped in floods – a job usually done by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Mr Pearce-Smith also intends to provide safety cover at Forest events as well as taking members on expeditions all over the world.

But last night a fire service spokesman encouraged anyone in trouble to phone 999 instead.

Mr Pearce-Smith is currently undergoing a new Criminal Record Bureau check and says the foundation is applying for charitable status.

A Charity Commission spokesman said the organisation would not take Mr Pearce- Smith’s age and health into account. But she added: “There needs to be a board of trustees when starting a charity, so the onus is not on one person.”

The Young Explorers Foundation will be run by Mr Pearce-Smith, his son Robin and two other directors.

In 1961 he founded the League of Venturers, a Lepe-based sea rescue organisation also operated by teenagers, and was later awarded the MBE for services to the community.

Power struggle He stepped down last year after initial tests suggested that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

As reported in the Daily Echo, he later fell out with the Venturers after becoming involved in a power struggle with successor Martin Bennett.

Mr Pearce-Smith unveiled his plans for the future after announcing that new tests showed he was not suffering from Alzheimer’s after all.

“I’ve only got a few short-term memory problems – but that’s hardly surprising in a man of 79,” he said.

He denied attempting to rival the Venturers, adding: “I’m doing it because I’m bored. I like adventure and overseas travel.”

Mr Pearce-Smith is funding the foundation himself with the help of a £500 donation from KFC, which has opened a new branch in Holbury. He has already bought a Land Rover Discovery and installed all the necessary equipment.

Mr Pearce-Smith, of Long Lane, Holbury, is a member of Fawley Parish Council.

One of his fellow councillors said: “Philip just wanted to do something and felt the Venturers didn’t want anything more to do with him. He may be 79 but other people are involved as well. I suspect that Philip will be more of a figurehead than anything else.”

A KFC spokesman added: “We are passionate about developing people’s skills. We are delighted to support the Young Explorers’ Foundation and hope it will make a positive difference to youngsters in Holbury.”

Vehicles stranded in floodwater have been towed to safety by the Venturers on several occasions.

Last night Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “Our advice remains that, in the event of an emergency, members of the public should call 999 to request the assistance of the emergency services.”

A Venturers spokesman was unavailable for comment.