Fire service probe ‘a stitch-up’, claims suspended chief

PUBLISHED: 18:26 03 August 2017

Avon Fire & Rescue Service needs new leadership, according to a Home Office-commissioned inspector.

Avon Fire & Rescue Service needs new leadership, according to a Home Office-commissioned inspector.

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Fire service probe ‘a stitch-up’, claims suspended chief

The head of Avon Fire Authority, who was suspended last week in the wake of a daming probe into the service’s ‘failings in leadership and culture’, has branded the report a ‘stitch-up’.

Chief Fire Officer Kevin Pearson and his deputy Lorraine Houghton were both suspended following the release of a report calling for a radical shake-up of the service’s leadership.

The report, which was commissioned by the Home Office amid allegations of bullying and management infighting, was written by consultant Dr Craig Baker and revealed concerns about the way the service was run, including payment irregularities.

It said ‘serious concerns remain’ and added ‘it is clear that the leadership arrangements at the authority have not been working effectively for many years’.

However, Mr Pearson, while ‘not well enough to be interviewed’, has come back fighting, branding the exercise a ‘witch hunt’ and challenging Dr Baker’s credibility as an independent and qualified assessor.

In a statement released on Thursday, Mr Pearson labelled the inspection ‘a complete sham’, adding he believed the real agenda was to hand fire service leadership to other authorities.

He said: “That witch hunt has now developed into a full-blown stitch-up. This inspection has been no more than a cynical ploy to discredit the governance, leadership and management of a fire authority in pursuit of a political agenda which seeks to transfer governance to Police and Crime Commissioners.

“The report is biased and imbalanced. It is littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

“The inspection itself was significantly flawed. In a four-month-long investigation, I, as the Chief Fire Officer, was interviewed once.

“The subjects of criticism have never seen the evidence gathered. They have been given no opportunity to test, challenge or substantiate that evidence.

“This is a highly unusual approach to any investigation; it is grossly unfair that people have been made the subjects of criticism on this basis.

“I do not believe the inspectors have the authority, credibility or independence to have reached the conclusions in this report.”

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