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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Fire discipline decision defended
Kevin Pearson
Mr Pearson said the incident had been reported inaccurately
A fire chief said "hysterical homophobia" was to blame for the criticism he had received after disciplining four firefighters.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service boss Kevin Pearson fined the officers 1,000 each for being on Bristol Downs.

At the time it was reported the officers were in trouble for shining a light at men having sex

Mr Pearson told a meeting of the fire authority the incident had been "reported inaccurately" in the media.

He denied claims his men had witnessed sexual activity on Bristol's Downs.

My view is homophobia exists in society and I would be naive to think it didn't in my organisation
Kevin Pearson, chief fire officer

Tory councillor Edward Murphy called the extraordinary meeting of the Avon Fire Authority demanding to know what the firemen had done wrong and to allow Mr Pearson to justify the punishment.

The chief fire officer said the firefighters had "no operational reason" for being there at that time of night and had all accepted they had brought the service into disrepute.

Mr Pearson did say he had considered the firefighters' "intentions" for making the detour to the Downs when he disciplined them - but refused to say if they were being homophobic.

"The level of sanction was reasonable, appropriate and proportionate," he said.

Newspaper source

Mr Pearson attacked the media for their reporting of the story and said a link had been made between gay sex and the incident - without any evidence to back it up.

He blamed a source who went to the Bristol Evening Post with the "misleading" story for "damaging the service's reputation."

A complaint was made to the Terrence Higgins Trust by a member of the public and then passed on to Avon Fire and Rescue Service.

The firefighters were suspended on full pay during a six-week investigation and later fined and transferred to other stations after being found guilty of bringing the service into disrepute.

Mr Pearson said he hoped members of those communities had not been frightened off from applying to the service for a job, but accepted some of his officers could be homophobic.

"My view is homophobia exists in society and I would be naive to think it didn't in my organisation.

"I hope we can now draw a line under this and move on."

'Complete whitewash'

Mr Murphy who represents Avonmouth Ward said he was not impressed by the chief's responses and said the firefighters had been gagged from speaking.

"I think this has been a complete whitewash. You didn't let them have a voice."

He was told the men had been advised not to discuss the disciplinary procedure, which was normal practice.

The fire authority later passed a motion expressing their support for the service and the chief fire officer.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
All members bar one support action taken



SEE ALSO
Authority debates homophobia row
14 Oct 07 |  Bristol/Somerset
Death threat issued to fire chief
12 Oct 07 |  Bristol/Somerset

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