Fresh controversy as latest candidate for Northamptonshire fire chief is probed by police watchdog

Nikki Watson is the latest candidate to be put forward for the Northamptonshire role. Credit: Office of Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.

An under-fire candidate in the running for the top job at a county fire service is being investigated by the police watchdog, it has emerged.

Nikki Watson, a retired deputy chief constable, is the latest candidate put forward to lead Northamptonshire's Fire and Rescue Service after a string of controversies over the job.

If appointed, she would be the county's fourth acting fire chief in a year.

While she has worked in policing for more than three decades, the Fire Brigades Union has criticised her lack of firefighting experience.

Ms Watson is the preferred candidate of Northamptonshire's Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold.

It has emerged that she is being investigated for her behaviour during her time as Deputy Chief Constable at Avon and Somerset Police, as first reported in the NN Journal.

Although they did not name Ms Watson, an IOPC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we are investigating the conduct of a former senior Avon and Somerset Police officer regarding their attendance at a policing conference in 2023 and whether proper policies and procedures were followed.

“Our investigation, which is well advanced, followed a referral from the force in October 2023.

“At its conclusion we will decide whether the former officer has any misconduct case to answer."

Ms Watson has 36 years' experience in policing but has not worked as a firefighter.

The FBU objected to Mr Mold's previous appointment for similar reasons.

In July, Nicci Marzec was appointed to succeed Mark Jones, who stepped down from the role earlier in the month.

She resigned after 10 days following public outcry at her lack of operational firefighting experience and speculation about her friendship with Mr Mold.

She was succeeded as interim chief fire officer by Simon Tuhill, who had been deputy, on 18 July.

Adam Taylor, FBU executive council member for the East Midlands, said: "Police, fire and crime commissioner Stephen Mold has once again failed to act with the integrity and transparency required of those leading our fire service.

“Media reports have shed light on Mold’s preferred candidate for chief fire officer being under investigation by the police watchdog.

"Firefighters and the public had been given no adequate explanation for the delay in the appointment since December. It appears that even the panel overseeing the process had been kept in the dark."

Mr Taylor said that Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service faced an "escalating crisis in senior leadership.”

A statement from Mr Mold's office said: “Nikki Watson has made us aware of an issue relating to her previous role in Avon and Somerset Police, which arose after she had been named as preferred candidate for the role of chief fire officer.

“We understand a process is now taking place and are confident that the IOPC will be carrying out a full, thorough and independent investigation of the matter, and that they will be doing that as quickly as possible.

“Nikki Watson went through an open and rigorous selection process for the role of chief fire officer and was the outstanding candidate.

"The confirmation process will continue, pending the outcome of the IOPC investigation, and we look forward to briefing the panel fully on 20 February.”

Ms Watson has a 36-year career in policing and was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for her work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However the Fire Brigades Union have accused Mr Mold of "trying to take the fire service back 100 years to the failed model of police fire brigades".

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