Essex fire chief suspension: MP calls for 'quicker resolution'

David Johnson
Image caption Essex's Chief Fire Officer David Johnson went on long-term sick leave in June 2014 and was formally suspended in April 2015

Long-term suspension cases including that of a £225,000-a-year chief fire officer need to be resolved "much more quickly", an MP said.

David Johnson was suspended on full pay by Essex Fire and Rescue Service in April 2015 after being on sick leave since June 2014 and is yet to return.

Essex Fire Authority said it had a duty to investigate allegations against him.

Braintree MP James Cleverly said it had been "very expensive" for taxpayers and a "distraction" for firefighters.

"There needs to a balance - of course fire authorities have to do a professional, fair and ethical investigation," he said.

"But ultimately, a lot of public money is at stake here and when you've got highly-paid public servants who are not able to do their jobs still being paid, it's not good news for taxpayers."

A Freedom of Information Request seen by the BBC revealed £201,000 had been spent on Mr Johnson's suspension between 20 April 2015 and 29 February this year.

Legal fees paid out during that time came to £116,000, and a total of £97,000 was spent on allowances paid to staff for covering the chief fire officer's responsibilities.

An Essex Fire Authority spokesman said Mr Johnson was entitled to continue receiving his salary because his suspension was a "neutral" act.

Image caption Essex's fire authority said it wanted to see an investigation into its chief fire officer "concluded as soon as possible"

Mr Johnson's trade union representative, Mark Turnbull, said he was "absolutely committed to coming back to the workplace" and was not interested in a payoff.

"Essex has been a well-funded fire service, and still is, but we're wasting money on suspensions and large projects that are not working or giving value for money," he said.

Chairman of the Essex branch of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), Alan Chinn-Shaw, said he wanted to "sit down at the table" with the fire authority to "discuss the issue and find a resolution".

"I think the way the suspensions have been dealt with is inappropriate," he added.

The fire authority spokesman said it was not in a position to comment on any allegations against Mr Johnson as the independent investigation needed to be a "fair and proper process".

"Obviously, we want to see it concluded as soon as possible and it is in everyone's interests that this happens," he added.

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