The Fire Brigade have been accused of trying to cover up a damaging complaint about London's Fire Authority Chairman Brian Coleman.
Earlier this summer, a member of the Authority's catering staff claimed that Coleman had launched into an "aggressive and rude" tirade against her.
The woman, who was employed within the brigade headquarters, said that Coleman had reduced her to tears on two separate occasions.
Asked to confirm or deny the details of these allegations today, a brigade spokesperson would only say that:
"We can confirm that no official complaint has been made and that there are no investigations being conducted into such a complaint."
However, I can confirm that not only did this complaint exist, but that the complaint was raised with several senior members of staff.
The following is from leaked minutes of a meeting held between LFEPA representatives and the catering contractors in July.
Catering Staff Complaint –member of FARE staff made a complaint relating to an issue relating to the “aggressive and rude” comments made by the Chairman of LFEPA when the catering staff were setting up a meeting room. This upset the member of catering staff. ****** is to seek further advise from senior management of LFEPA in relation to this complaint.
I can also reveal that the brigade's Director of Resources Barbara Riddell personally apologised for the incident on Coleman's behalf.
In an email sent to The London Fire Brigade Union, Riddell admits that:
"My role in this was to apologise at the time the incident happened and for a short time afterwards (as I visit the cafe every day) to ask ****** whether she was ok. Our understanding was and is that ****** did not wish to pursue the complaint but that is a matter for her and her employers."
This apology is also referred to in a separate email exchange leaked to this blog.
Following the meeting referred to above, one LFB manager told another that:
"This incident happened on the 25th June. I understand that Barbara did apologise on the Chairman’s behalf."
before adding that:
"This isn’t the 1st occasion where the Chairman has been rude to contractors - can you suggest any further action that needs to be taken?"
The complainant has since decided not to pursue the complaint any further.
However, Coleman's behaviour is well known within the Authority and was even flagged in an Audit Commission report earlier this year
As first revealed here, the report noted that Coleman was a "robust and challenging" Chairman before adding that:
"staff and some external stakeholders find his style too confrontational"
The details of these incidents have never before been made public and the Brigade's Union now believe there has been a deliberate effort to cover them up.
FBU Regional Official Paul Embery told me that:
"In attempting to get to the bottom of these allegations, we have met with the most obstructive resistance from senior fire authority managers. They have completely closed ranks around Coleman. There is no doubt in our minds that there is a shabby attempt at a cover-up taking place."“If a firefighter had been accused of similar misconduct, he would have had the book thrown at him. Not Councillor Coleman. It seems that senior authority figures are petrified of standing up to this increasingly preposterous character. It’s one rule for Councillor Coleman and one for the rest of us.”
A spokesperson for the Fire Brigade declined to comment any further on the allegations.