Dear Editor, I was astonished by the naivety of Chief Fire Officer Graeme Smith’s ill-tempered outburst against Warwickshire Police, after three members of Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service were acquitted at their trials this week.
Like CFO Smith I am very pleased with the outcome.
But unlike him I am glad the matter went to trial, to be heard by a jury in open court, not swept quietly aside after some opaque process behind closed doors at Shire Hall, as he and Warwickshire County Council would apparently prefer.
Whenever a member of the emergency services dies on duty the circumstances must be thoroughly investigated, for the sake of their families and to ensure lessons are learned for other members of the service who may be placed in a similar position in the future.
This is even more important when so many men die making such a pointless sacrifice.
And if, after a prolonged and thorough investigation like that conducted by Warwickshire Police, the Crown Prosecution Service believes the evidence is sufficient to require fire service personnel to be charged and put on trial, that is what exactly should happen, no matter how difficult this may make life for the men concerned and for CFO Smith.
We were glad enough when managers at Railtrack and Network Rail faced prosecution for manslaughter after fatal accidents, and there are many similarities here. If they are innocent, as in this case, they will come through it, and if they are guilty they will be dealt with appropriately.
And I note the jury took no less than seven hours to reach their verdict on two of these defendants.
Furthermore the public, who both pay for the Fire Service and depend daily for our safety on its effectiveness, now know far more about the circumstances of the fire and the decisions that day than we otherwise would, and for that we should all be grateful to the police and the CPS.
The Chief Fire Officer should have been advised to draw breath and count to ten before responding to the acquittal as he did.
The relationship between the fire service and the police in Warwickshire, already badly strained after the investigation, has now been dragged down to a new low point by Graeme Smith’s intemperate criticism of professional police officers simply doing their job.
Public safety requires a trusting and respectful relationship between the emergency services, and he has done nothing to enhance this; instead he set it back a hundred years.
And worse, he left the clear impression of a blustering Chief Fire Officer, afraid of scrutiny, concerned only with closing ranks, lashing out at fellow public service professionals and cosying up to the Fire Brigades Union.