Fire chiefs suspended over bullying and 'old boy's club' allegations

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The chief fire officer of Avon Fire and Rescue and his deputy have been suspended after a report revealed allegations of “endemic” harassment and bullying in the brigade.

The Home Office report, which criticised both the Fire Authority and its oversight body, included suggestions it was “old boys’ club”, while Kevin Pearson, chief fire officer since 2001, had been “unchallenged and not held properly to account for too long”.

The review found that staff believed bullying and harassment were “endemic” in the organisation and said Mr Pearson retired in 2009, only to be re-employed a day later.

Other findings included what was labelled an “illusory sacrifice” when Mr Pearson’s pay was cut by 22 per cent as part of an austerity programme, which he was able to make up by drawing on his pension.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service confirmed the suspension of Mr Pearson and deputy Lorraine Houghton, saying: “Suspension is a neutral act to protect the organisation and the individuals concerned.

“At the moment these are only allegations which will be investigated in line with disciplinary procedures and processes.”

The service will be supported by Stewart Edgar, chief fire officer of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, with help from other services in the area.

Craig Baker, who led the review, said the Fire Authority scrutinising the service was failing in its governance arrangements as well as its leadership and culture.

His report said: “Some interviewees commented on the degree of consensus within the authority as positive, and felt that the authority was always supportive of the service as a whole and were seeking the best for it.

“Others, however, said they considered the authority as lacking drive, and seemed largely to be ‘an old boys’ club’, with little discussion of matters of importance, and excessive concerns over minor items.

“We have been told that in most meetings there was little or no debate and rarely was there extensive debate.”

Councillor Donald Davies, who became chairman of Avon Fire Authority last month, said the report made “difficult reading”.

He added: “The biggest frustration to me is that in the past, when our budgets were not as squeezed as they are today, money was wasted.

“This is money that could have been better spent and I will ensure this won’t be allowed to happen again.”

Documents from Avon Fire and Rescue show the chief fire officer is paid a basic annual salary of £144,854, while the deputy gets £115,883.

Reporting by Press Association

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