Police investigate claims firefighters took photographs of women who died in car accidents

One female firefighter told ITV News that she witnessed male colleagues 'make comments about the type of underwear' women, who had died in car accidents, were wearing - Paul Brand reports

Warning: This report contains details some readers may find upsetting

Police have launched an investigation into claims that firefighters at Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service on more than one occasion photographed women who had died in car accidents.

ITV News has uncovered evidence that the images were shared on an informal WhatsApp group, where male firefighters are alleged to have made degrading comments about the deceased victims.

One whistleblower, speaking anonymously, told ITV News: "I've seen people make comments about the type of underwear the women are wearing in the car crash."

The female firefighter added: "Retrieving the body of someone dead should tear you apart, not make you want to take photos of it, just to joke about it later.

"Because that's someone's loved one, isn't it? That's someone's relative."

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service have also launched its own independent review, amid damning testimony shared with ITV News about the treatment of women within the organisation.

Several female firefighters told ITV News of persistent sexual harassment within their stations, including one male firefighter demanding sexual favours at the scene of a fire.

The women also shared dozens of explicit photographs and messages they had been sent unsolicited by male colleagues, including demands for sex.

The allegations about Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service follow an investigation by ITV News last December into South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, where similar concerns were raised about sexual harassment and abuse of women.

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service has now commissioned an independent review of its culture and disciplinary processes, similar to one also completed last year at London Fire Brigade.

Despite several of the firefighters at Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service being reported for their behaviour, ITV News understands that all of the men are still working for the service.

Sarah - not her real name - told us: "I'd never want to see a picture like that and it repulses you, and then you have to go back to work.

"You have to sit with this person in the truck, you have to go to fire calls with them and you know the way they feel and you know what they've sent you.

"And it just changes the whole atmosphere."

ITV News has discovered that one of the individuals who sent explicit photographs to Sarah also sent the same pictures of himself to a separate woman within hours of her attending an open day at the fire station.

She subsequently decided not to join the service.

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Her experiences have left Sarah with lasting trust issues.

"It just affects everything. It affects your relationships, it affects your trust as well," Sarah told us.

"Because you meet someone new and you think, can I trust this person? Is he going to say something or do something? It makes you feel like you can't trust any firefighter anymore."

Similar experiences are shared by another firefighter, Jess, whose name we have also changed.

She told us that a male colleague tried to kiss her while they were attending the scene of a fire.

"It was late into it and the fire was dampening down basically," she told us.

"The crew had been sent away to fill up the appliance with water, which meant that I was left alone with him on site.

"Whilst we were alone, he was trying to kiss me.

"Then he said 'if we hurry up, then you can give me sexual favours before they come back'.

"I remember just sitting there and in my mind just thinking, please guys just come back quickly. Where are they? What's taking them so long?"

The interaction left Jess feeling vulnerable.

"I felt really uncomfortable and I kept moving around and it was probably like a cat on a hot tin roof. I just kept moving around and trying to stay away from him."

Jess was told that in order to progress her career, she'd have to provide sex in return.

"Things like if I want to advance my career - or if I want any help or guidance - I am told it would cost me sexual favours.

"Meetings would be arranged for me to go into the station to work on my development folder, but when I arrived that would be quickly scrapped and I would be told to get naked or do a sexual favour."

On another evening, Jess was chosen to set up for a drill night - a training session - with an officer who then tried to force her to have sex with him.

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"He told me to get naked and said if we hurried up we could have sex before any of the crew came back.

"I tried to leave and he said 'as your officer, do as you're told'."

So, you were being told it was your duty to have sex with him? I asked her.

"Yes. I stormed out. I pushed past him and said I'm not doing that."

When Jess told him she would report him, he told her she wouldn't be believed.

"It makes you feel kind of worthless and deflated because we train so hard to get in and then to do the job... and yet we're only ever just seen as that, that's all we will ever be.

"It's the worst feeling in the world that no matter what we do, that's all we will ever be. A sexual object."

Speaking to ITV News, Ben Ansell, Chief Fire Officer for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service, said he found the claims to be 'deeply concerning'

In response to the allegations, Chief Fire Officer for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service, Ben Ansell, told ITV News: "The matters you have raised with us are deeply concerning and we take allegations of this nature extremely seriously.

"As allegations of criminal behaviour are involved, we have immediately alerted the police so the appropriate action can be taken. I am also commissioning an independent investigation.

"As part of this investigation, I will be providing all of our female staff with the opportunity to speak to an independent organisation.

"It is vital to have their help in identifying any inappropriate behaviour - in a modern fire and rescue service there is absolutely no place for it.

"In addition, we have set up a confidential helpline so if any of our staff have immediate issues as a result of these allegations, the right support is in place.

"There is an expectation for our staff to work in line with our code of ethics which sets out high levels of expected behaviours.

"The vast majority of our staff are good people, working hard and doing a great job. But when and if those standards are not met, we will move quickly to address it."

Meanwhile, Sarah Jones, Labour's Shadow Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, described the allegations as "appalling and deeply shocking".

She said: "There are incredibly serious questions to be answered about standards and culture in the fire service across the country.

"Labour has called for a national review of standards and culture in our fire service - to introduce more transparency on misconduct and improve professional standards across the country.

"Home Office ministers must not to do what they have done with the police - and sit back and leave it to individual services to tackle cultural failures.

"It is the responsibility of the Conservative government to make sure the fire service has the will and the resources to reform culture and standards in every part of the country."

A recent inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) had graded Dorset and Wiltshire Fire service as 'good' at the progress the service has made in the way it looks after its staff.

The HMICFRS is the independent body which assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of police forces and fire and rescue services in England and Wales.

But in the wake of ITV News' reporting, a spokesperson for the organisation said it was "deeply concerned" by the allegations.

"We are in contact with Dorset & Wiltshire Fire Service to ensure this is investigated thoroughly, and we will be closely monitoring the outcome of the service’s independent review," they added.

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