A statement from CFO Chris Lowther addressing concerns raised by ITV

Please find below a comment from Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther addressing a news report relating to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service that was aired on ITV news this evening (Thursday, March 23rd).

“I wanted to take the opportunity to address a report broadcast on the national ITV news this evening on the culture of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service.

“As part of the report, they interviewed a former female firefighter who made a number of allegations about her treatment during the time at the Service. We can find no record of these allegations but the behaviours she described are abhorrent and have no place in our organisation.

“The timeline of when the incidents took place are not known but the behaviours described are not ones I recognise as being common place in Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service in 2023.

“However, I understand that some victims may be suffering in silence and we need to give them the confidence to speak up. Anyone who has experienced behaviours as described in this report deserve action to be taken against any perpetrators.

“I want to reassure the public that we have already commissioned an independent cultural audit to identify areas where we can improve, and to give Staff an opportunity to express their views about the culture. The audit will begin in the coming weeks and we will be transparent about the feedback we receive.

“I also want to address the concerns raised by ITV about the promotion of a staff member who, at the time, was under investigation by Northumbria Police. I was spoken to by police as a potential witness in the case and advised not to share any further details of the case. The staff member did not face any further police action.

“The promotion process had also been completed prior to the allegation being made but I can confirm the promotion was confirmed following the alleged incident. It would have been highly unusual for me to intervene in that process, particularly following the advice I had received from police, but I recognise some members of the public may have expected me to.

“In recent days I have been reflecting on that decision, and I will continue to deliberate as to whether I could have acted differently. What I know in my heart is that every decision I made, I felt I did in the best interest of the Service, and in line with the procedures we had in place.

“Those procedures are under review. However, if any decision I made has damaged trust, or added to the trauma of a victim of sexual assault, then I whole-heartedly apologise.

“I am immensely proud to be Chief Fire Officer of this Service. Every day I hear of extraordinary acts of public service and heroism that leave me personally humbled. When you call 999, we will be there to keep you safe and protect your family. It is what the fire and rescue service is all about.

“My decision to retire last week was not related to the reports broadcast this evening, I actually decided to retire several months ago but only made it public at the March Fire Authority.

“I have served as a firefighter for 26 years and it is the right time for me to leave. Due to pension contributions made prior to my time in the fire service, I have already contributed to the scheme for 30 years and will be heavily penalised if I do not retire this year.

“I will remain in post until my replacement is appointed in May and have signalled my intention to remain in post until October 31st to ensure an efficient handover with whoever the successful candidate may be.

“Until then, I will continue to work together with the leadership team here in Tyne and Wear, to review our culture. We will not be complacent, because there is always more that can be done to ensure our organisation is a safe, supportive and inclusive place to work.”

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer, Chris Lowther