Suspended fire chief claims he is victim of witch hunt

Image caption, Chief fire officer Kevin Pearson was suspended following critical Home Office report

A chief fire officer suspended following a critical Home Office report says he is the victim of a "witch hunt".

Kevin Pearson and his deputy Lorraine Houghton were suspended after the report unearthed an "old boys club" culture at Avon Fire Authority.

Mr Pearson said the investigation was a "cynical ploy" to transfer power to the police and crime commissioner.

The authority said it was "inappropriate" to comment.

The Home Office report, published last month, said the leadership of Avon Fire Authority should be replaced.

It said senior officers enjoyed big pay rises and enhanced pensions at a time of austerity.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service said suspension of its chief fire officer and deputy was "a neutral act to protect the organisation and the individuals concerned".

Avon and Somerset's Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said she was considering a takeover of the area's fire service, after the report left a "nasty taste in the mouth".

Image caption, Avon Fire Authority was accused of being run for the benefit of senior fire officers, not the community

But in a statement, Mr Pearson said the inspection was a "complete sham".

"This inspection has been no more than a cynical ploy to discredit the governance, leadership and management of a fire authority, in pursuit of a political agenda, which seeks to transfer governance to police and crime commissioners," he said.

"The report is biased and imbalanced. It is littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations."

'Differing views'

Mr Pearson accepted that people would have "differing views" about pay rises offered to a "few of its most senior officers".

But he blamed national politicians for not being "like-minded" to give firefighters "decent pay increases that they thoroughly deserve".

In response, Avon Fire Authority said: "As he [Mr Pearson] is currently suspended and absent on sick leave it would be inappropriate for the authority to make any comment."

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