South Wales Fire Service faces independent review into abusive behaviour by firefighters

Evidence uncovered by ITV News has revealed how some firefighters in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service have retained their jobs despite sexually harassing and abusing women, as Paul Brand reports

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service is facing an independent review into its culture and disciplinary processes following an ITV News investigation into abusive behaviour by two of its firemen.  

ITV News found evidence that two firemen had been allowed to keep their jobs despite sexually harassing and abusing women.

The accusations are of particular concern given that the organisation became the first fire service in the world to be awarded ‘white ribbon’ status in 2014, a status that has now been suspended following the ITV News investigation.

As part of its white ribbon accreditation, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service promised to provide a safe haven for women fleeing danger.

However, ITV News can reveal that in 2020 one of its firefighters was found to have sexually harassed a female member of staff while at work.

Watch Manager John Morgan was accused of exposing himself to a cleaner on night shifts, with the harassment lasting for years - tonight he has been taken off his shifts by South Wales Fire Service.

Waiving her anonymity, Shirley – who works at Ely station in Cardiff – says she eventually reported Mr Morgan’s behaviour because she feared she could be raped.

Shirley was harassed by a firefighter for years and has waived her right to anonymity to help keep others safe

She told ITV News, “It progressively got worse where he was stripping off and had an erection on. He was running up and down the corridor at one time naked. And he was getting closer and closer to me as he got more daring. I couldn’t get away from it. If I went one way, he’d find a way to find me and expose himself.”

Shirley brought her concerns to South Wales Fire and Rescue Service in May 2020.

She was interviewed as part of an internal investigation, during which she was asked why she had not told Mr Morgan to stop his behaviour.

The fireman was later disciplined and demoted, moving to another station within the force’s remit.

However, little over a year later Mr Morgan was promoted again, regaining his original position as Watch Manager.

He continues to work at a station which carries the white ribbon, supposedly offering safe refuge to women.

Shirley told us: "Someone could walk in there and something (could) happen to them.

"Because they don't know, as much as I didn't know in the beginning."

ITV News also spoke to a former partner of another firefighter, who we cannot identify in order to protect his victim.

She told us that she had been domestically abused by the fireman. ITV News has verified her claims via court documents, which show that the firefighter was convicted of assault.

Despite his conviction, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service allowed the firefighter to continue working for the service at a white ribbon station.

He was eventually dismissed several years later over unrelated misconduct.

His former partner told us: "It's just changed me. I used to be so bubbly and outgoing."I just don't think he should be allowed to be in a place of safe haven for domestic violence victims when he's a domestic violence aggressor. "How dare they."

"He ruined my life" - a domestic abuse survivor victim tells Paul Brand how "hard" it was to see her aggressor working in what should be a safe haven for women

ITV News has also spoken to a retired fireman who claimed that abusive behaviour threatened to undermine the reputation of the fire service.

Speaking anonymously for fear of losing his fire service pension, he told us: "There's a very, very small minority who reflect so badly on the rest of us."

"We are supposed to be in a position of trust protecting vulnerable people. It completely undermines all the values we're expected to uphold as an organisation."

White Ribbon today suspended the service's accreditation as a result.

In a statement, the charity said: "White Ribbon are very concerned about the information that has been uncovered about South Wales Fire and Rescue Service."

"White Ribbon Accredited organisations commit to an Action Plan with core criteria of strategic leadership, raising awareness, changing culture and ensuring men are engaged in ending male violence against women."

"We have suspended South Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s Accreditation, pending a review. Our thoughts are with the victims, and with those who live in fear of abuse and violence. White Ribbon UK advocates for safer cultures for women and girls throughout all our work, and we will continue to work towards all women and girls living without the fear of violence."

The claims at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service uncovered by ITV News echo similar concerns at London Fire Brigade, where a recent report carried out by former Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal found serious cases of misogyny and racism.

Mr Afzal said: "It is absolutely essential that the fire service and the public service more generally see this as a MeToo moment.

"People have found their voice and they are now talking about what has happened to them. We can let them down or we can do something about it."

Responding to our investigation, Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway QFSM from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said in a statement: "On behalf of the Service, I welcome the opportunity to apologise to those affected by these events and to anyone that our Service has let down. 

"I am unable to go into the specifics of each case, but as a result of these complaints, I will now initiate an independent review of our culture, our discipline processes and historic cases where our employees have failed to uphold our high standards. 

"All matters of discipline are taken extremely seriously and are considered in line with the Service’s established disciplinary procedure, which follows best practice set by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Disciplinary cases are fully investigated and decisions are reached by an impartial disciplinary panel, following consideration of the full facts of each case. 

"South Wales Fire and Rescue Service is a Gold standard Investor in People employer and we were proud to be the first Fire and Rescue Service in the world to be an accredited White Ribbon organisation. We will continue to work with White Ribbon to end abusive and misogynistic elements of male culture, to prevent violence against women and girls before it starts. 

"We have been an active participant in the annual White Ribbon 16 days of action and often invite domestic abuse survivors to talk with our staff on this sensitive issue. This year we also declared our 47 fire and rescue stations as Safe Havens, where anyone in imminent danger can attend for help. 

"We are working very hard to diversify our Service to be more representative of the communities we serve. We are proud that 7 out of 22 people who graduated as Wholetime Firefighters this month are women, which further demonstrates our commitment to inclusivity.  

"I would encourage anyone who experiences or witnesses inappropriate behaviour from any member of the Service - whether you are an employee or member of the public - to report their concerns through the appropriate routes which include: notifying their line manager, making a disclosure under our whistleblowing procedure; raising a grievance; or through our complaints process.  I am committed to dealing with any actions that contravene our values and professional standards."    

Deputy Minister for Social Partnerships Hannah Blythyn said: “These allegations are disturbing and completely unacceptable. We have made clear time and time again that Wales will not tolerate any forms of violence against women, harassment or sexual abuse.“It is essential that there is a full and thorough independent investigation.

“I have recently written to the Welsh FRAs outlining my concerns regarding the Independent Culture Review of London Fire Brigade and asking for reassurances from our Fire Services here in Wales.“It’s clear more action is needed and we should expect nothing short of zero tolerance of such behaviour." 

Commenting, Welsh Conservative Shadow Social Partnership Minister, Joel James MS said: This extremely worrying news and the apparent culture of nepotism is completely unacceptable, particularly given that white ribbon stations have pledged to never excuse this kind of behaviour - they should be safe havens for women. 

“There is clearly a need for a thorough investigation into these matters, with those found to have harassed or to have covered it up, needing to be held to account. 

“The Labour government needs to get involved and guarantee the public and South Wales Fire and Rescue staff the safety and security they expect and deserve.” 

If you have information about this story or others on the issue please contact us at investigations@itv.com.