Fire service bosses talked about wanting to 'kill' and harm female colleagues

In the WhatsApp messages, the senior officers use the words 'lazy cow' and 'bint' to refer to women in the fire service. ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

The chief fire officer (CFO) and assistant chief fire officer (ACFO) of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service both sent messages suggesting they wanted to kill or harm female colleagues.

In the WhatsApp messages - which have been leaked to ITV News - the senior officers also use the words "lazy cow", "bint" and "useless" to refer to women in the service.

Several of the messages target Area Manager Jan Morris, who resigned from the service this year after reading what had been said about her.

"She does the square root of f*** all," the now ACFO Adam Matthews messaged in February last year.

"I've got no loyalty to the lazy cow," he added in March 2023.

He then shared a cartoon GIF of someone being thrown under a bus.

When Jan posted on LinkedIn the same month asking for help finding a company which made uniforms for female firefighters, ACFO Matthews shared the post on WhatsApp and wrote: "She is having a whinge on LinkedIn again, that's the reason this gender s*** pisses me off, constantly rammed down our throats."

A reconstructed WhatsApp message from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service ACFO Adam Matthews

Credit: ITV News

His boss, Simon Hardiman, who is now CFO, wrote about Jan in March 2022, saying: "At least she had a positive effect on the gender pay gap," before adding several laughing emojis.

He talked about sending a job advert from another service to Jan, before asking "does that look too forceful?".

Several months later in June 2022, the CFO stated simply: "I've calmed down now but I could still kill her buddy."

Jan alleges that the men - who were both promoted shortly after sending some of the messages - wanted her to leave the service because she is a woman, despite the fact that she has an unblemished career spanning 26 years.

A reconstructed WhatsApp message from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Simon Hardiman

Credit: ITV News

Speaking exclusively to ITV News, she said: "I've lost my career. I'm stepping away from the job I've loved for 26 years because I've been made to feel so devalued and unwelcome.

"I can't do it anymore. I can't work with people who think it's ok to do things like that. They don't deserve their jobs, don't deserve to be in those positions.

"This is not how I wanted to end my career in the fire and rescue service. I should be stepping out the door proud as punch not through the back door because people have forced me into it."

When we showed Jan several messages she hadn't seen before, including the GIF of a person being thrown under a bus, she broke down in tears.

Jan Morris told ITV News she was 'really, really hurt' when she first saw messages sent by senior fire officers which suggested that they wanted to hurt or kill her

She said: "I just don't understand why they would want to do something like that, or even think it is ok. It is vile and disgusting. But I'm not surprised."

Jan has won several industry awards for her work to improve diversity within fire services.

When she posted on social media about the standard fitness test being harder for women than men in March last year, ACFO Matthews shared the message and wrote: "We have been taking bets on her not doing it !!!"

He added: "I've asked the provider for a list of all officers test dates and those overdue so I can chase them up #cantwait."

'I just don't understand why they would want to do something like that or even think it's ok'

Other women were targeted in the messages too. ITV News has chosen to protect their identities.

Talking about one female colleague, the chief said: "She is useless mate. So far out her depth."

Referring to another, the assistant chief asks: "Why should we bow down to dog breath instead of telling her to f*** off?

"If they ain't happy get the lazy cow to do ops [operations]."

A reconstructed WhatsApp message from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service ACFO Adam Matthews

Credit: ITV News

On one occasion he refers to the woman as a "f***** bint".

And talking about a third woman, ACFO Matthews says he'd like to "launch the cow straight out of the window".

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service recently conducted an independent review of its culture.

Responding to the publication of the report just a few weeks ago, Mr Hardiman wrote: "It did not find a toxic culture and there was no evidence of current discriminatory practices and/or behaviours."

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Simon Hardiman (left) and Assistant Chief Fire Officer Adam Matthews. Credit: Shropshire Fire Service/X

At the time of his statement, ITV News understands that the CFO knew about most - if not all - of the message messages.

We shared our findings with the chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Dame Diana Johnson MP, who is currently conducting an inquiry into the culture of the fire and rescue sector, following investigations by ITV News into multiple fire services.

She said: "We know leadership is really important in the fire and rescue service and to see leaders writing things like that about female fire fighters is very shocking.

"The idea has been put forward that this is a 'few bad apples', but actually what this is pointing to is much more about the general culture of those in leadership positions.

"Reading those messages, I'm worried a great deal what the culture is like in that fire service."

'That worries me a great deal,' Dame Diana Johnson MP told ITV News after reading the leaked WhatsApp messages

Jan has now decided to take Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service to an employment tribunal.

Her solicitor, Helen Moore, told ITV News: "Jan, as a very senior and well established fire fighter is incredibly brave.

"By sharing her story, she is showing how, in certain fire services, the problems start at the top and flow downwards.

"Unfortunately, up until now those at the top have been untouchable, but with people like Jan Morris speaking out and allowing us to fight on their behalf, this will not continue for much longer."

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service told ITV News: "We are aware of allegations made against officers within Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.

"These complaints are being externally and independently investigated and we will take all appropriate actions when it has been completed.

"The Service takes all complaints extremely seriously and hold all our staff accountable, regardless of their position.

"We will share any outcomes of these investigations in due course."

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