Avon Fire and Rescue Service review call over 'bullying' claim

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Image caption Avon Fire Authority said the allegations had been investigated twice and it had concluded no further action was needed

Calls have been made for an independent investigation at Avon Fire and Rescue Service after the departure of three senior officers in five years.

The BBC has uncovered evidence of infighting among senior management and allegations of bullying in one case.

Three councillors on the Avon Fire Authority, which oversees the service, have called for an independent review.

The authority said the allegations had been investigated twice and concluded no further action was needed.

Former assistant chief fire officer Dave Salmon took early retirement on the grounds of ill-health in 2014, following a suspension.

The BBC has been told he was met with resistance from colleagues after pushing for reforms to the service.

Image caption Former HR director Maggie Harte said disagreements at the fire service made her ill

An independent doctor, who saw him when he was pursuing part of his under-dispute pension, said Mr Salmon "appeared to have been subject to behaviours which could be argued as being bullying and harassment prior to his suspension".

Avon Fire Authority said it could not comment on personal circumstances but that it had been subject to a "malicious campaign" at a time when it was working to make savings.

'Toxic atmosphere'

Deputy chief fire officer Jerry O'Brien was given a year's secondment and £25,000 pensionable allowance before retiring in 2012.

But the secondment never happened and Mr O'Brien spent time instead on garden leave, the BBC has been told.

Mr O'Brien said he retired "in accordance with the normal provisions of my contract of employment and the firefighters pension scheme."

Another senior member of staff, HR director Maggie Harte, who took early retirement in 2011, said disagreements at board level made her ill.

"I had been in the fire service for 30 odd years, my sickness record almost flawless.

"Suddenly I found I would be vomiting before I went into work on a Monday, which was our board meeting day, just at the thought of yet another clash.

"It was so unpleasant it broke me for a period of time."

'Unfounded allegations'

Nick Wilton, who has called for a review, said: "I would describe the atmosphere as toxic. The fact that three senior officers have exited… I think is a real cause for concern."

The authority said it had been aware of the "unfounded" allegations for some time and they had been dealt with twice in recent months.

A spokesman said it had "treated the matters seriously".

"The second time a more in-depth review of the allegations was carried out and we received a statutory report from the fire authority's new monitoring officer, who was able to bring a fresh perspective to these matters," he said.

The authority added an overwhelming majority of its members decided "no further action should be taken" and they have "full confidence" in the chief fire officer.

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