The Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services has instructed every fire service to notify him of all recent misconduct cases in England.
Andy Cooke has given fire chiefs a deadline of February 14 to report all allegations of gross misconduct within the past year.
Copying in the Home Office, the Chief Inspector writes: “Public confidence is damaged by such behaviour. It is therefore essential, in order to assess the ongoing efficiency and effectiveness of fire and rescue services, that we understand, and are kept informed of, serious and significant allegations in relation to your service.”
His letter, dated February 7, references recent reporting by ITV News of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service, where firefighters are accused of sharing photographs and making lewd comments about the bodies of dead women.
Last week, ITV News revealed that one of the most senior officers at the service was able to retire early without sanction, despite being found guilty of gross misconduct towards female colleagues.
Former Assistant Chief Fire Officer Byron Standen was accused of sexual harassment, predatory behaviour, grooming and coercion. He was able to retire on full pension, which the fire service blamed on a loophole in their disciplinary procedure, which has now been closed.
In January, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services rated the culture at Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service as ‘good’.
Responding to our subsequent reporting, the Chief Inspector tells fire chiefs in his letter: “Whilst progress has been made in many services, the nature of the allegations we have seen in recent weeks once again points to the need for further significant improvement, particularly coming so quickly after the Independent Culture Review of the London Fire Brigade.”
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He has demanded that every fire service in England informs the inspectorate of: any current cases of gross misconduct; any cases concluded within the past 12 months; and any other concerns or allegations about the culture and values of the organisation which are “currently attracting or have the potential to attract media, internal, or other public interest or criticism.”
Mr Cooke also confirms that a report will be published later this year regarding the culture and values of fire services, as requested by the government.
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is currently facing a police investigation over the allegations broadcast on ITV News, as well as an independent review of its organisation.
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service – which falls under a Welsh inspectorate – is also conducting an independent review of its culture following similar allegations of sexual harassment uncovered by ITV News.
Last week, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman told ITV News: “The culture does need to change in some fire services”, with the Labour Party calling for a national review of all services.
A HMICFRS spokesperson said: "His Majesty’s Chief Inspector wrote to all chief fire officers on Tuesday 7 February to formally request that they share information on any allegations that call into question the culture and values of fire and rescue services."