More financial waste by CFO Saunders

Two Merseyside firefighters have concluded lengthy legal battles to be awarded their ill health pensions. Both firefighters were medically unfit for duty and should have been retired but retirement and payment of pensions owing had been delayed, in one case for almost two years.

Mr. Brian Carter of Southport had been a firefighter since 1974. In 1989 he started noticing symptoms of deafness in his left ear, which progressed gradually. In December 1997 he noticed deafness in his right ear. By June 1999 his condition had begun to affect his work quite significantly, to the extent that on one occasion, he did not hear the alarm for a call out. Because his condition affected his balance, there was another occasion when he fell from a fire appliance. In June 1999 he told his station officer of his problems and was immediately taken off duty.

Mr. Carter should have been retired in August 1999 when Merseyside Fire Service Medical Officer certified him unfit for firefighting. However, the Chief Fire Officer Malcolm Saunders refused to retire him and Mr. Carter was forced to take his claim for a pension to Merseyside Fire Authority itself. The Fire Authority eventually agreed that Mr. Carter should be retired but would not pay him his back pension. An appeal was made to the Crown Court and shortly before it was due to go before a Judge, Merseyside Fire Authority agreed to orders for back payment of pension benefits and interest, totalling almost £19,000.

A similar situation faced another firefighter, Mr. Stephen Hendrie of Birkenhead. When he asked the Fire Authority to reconsider the position the Chief Fire Officer stated that it was “morally repugnant to pay him a pension on the grounds of ill health”. This argument was roundly rejected by Merseyside Fire Authority and settlement of Mr. Hendrie’s case has finally been achieved. He will receive just over £9,500 in back dated and pension interest.

Similar situations arose in West Yorkshire where the current Merseyside Chief Fire Officer was Deputy Chief Fire Officer and this resulted in a bill to that Fire Authority of over £3 million (estimated).

Neil Thompson, Regional Chair, said today: “This just shows what little regard is shown for firefighters health and public finances when extra money is now having to be spent because of the actions of the Chief Fire Officer. It is disgraceful that this Chief Officer is allowed to continue wasting public money in this way.

“Further there are at least another eight cases in the pipeline at an average cost of £15,000 this could amount to a bill of over £150,000.”

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