Allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination have been reported in every fire and rescue service in England, a report has found.
Examples included two male firefighters joking with a female colleague that they were “going to rape her,” and the three of them acting out the rape together. On another occasion a senior officer referred to a black colleague using the n-word.
Inspectors found examples of racist, homophobic and misogynistic behaviour in a quarter of services in England, with the behaviour often excused as “banter.”
The sector is described as a “boys club,” and people said they felt uncomfortable about reporting bad behaviour for fear of reprisals. The fire inspectorate warned that recent headlines about misconduct may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Roy Wilsher, of His Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, said on misconduct cases over the past 12 months: “More than half of those concerned inappropriate behaviour, such as bullying and harassment, associated with a protected characteristic. This is shocking enough but I am not confident that this is even the whole picture.”
“Our findings shine a light on deeply troubling bullying and harassment in fire and rescue services across the country – and I fear this could be just the tip of the iceberg.
“I can’t guarantee there’s no predators or racists, homophobes or sexists within the Fire Rescue Service. But what I can guarantee that if our recommendations are implemented, things will improve,” he told Sky News.
The report calls for background checks on all firefighters and staff, and new misconduct standards to be introduced. This is to include a national barred list. The sector needs to “get a grip” on how it handles misconduct, the inspector said, adding it “cannot wait another day before it acts.”
‘I did get pressured into sleeping with a colleague’
Sky News spoke to a female firefighter who said she was pressured into sex by a male colleague.
“I haven’t discussed it before, but there was a time after an evening out that I did get pressured into sleeping with a colleague when I didn’t want to. If I was sober I would never have consented to it,” she told Sky News.
“After that, my mental health was really bad. I regretted it so much that I let myself get that drunk – I didn’t expect to get upset… last year I actually made an attempt to take my own life because of how he made me feel.”
The firefighter said she was repeatedly sent explicit photographs from male colleagues.
“I try and avoid people that have sent me pictures like that now. And I try and act as normal as possible… but it’s always at the back of my mind.”
One of the images shows a male firefighter sitting on a toilet showing his private parts. He is wearing a navy blue t-shirt that appears to be his uniform.
The female firefighter said: “A lot of sexual favours asked for. A female colleague was pinned in the corner by more than one firefighter and demanded sexual favours. Another was sexually assaulted by a colleague as he walked past. Then he took photos of her changing.
Sky News has seen text message exchanges between female colleagues which paint a disturbing picture of their experiences.
The Home Office called the findings in the report “deeply concerning” and promised to address bad culture across the sector.
The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence was effectively “gaslit” by the Daily Mail, the High Court has been told – as Prince Harry made a brief appearance for the end of the privacy hearing.
Baroness Doreen Lawrence is one of a number of high-profile individuals, including the Duke of Sussex, accusing the newspaper’s publishers Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) of concealing “wrongdoing” over the alleged unlawful gathering of their private information.
ANL vehemently denies the claims and has argued for the case to be dismissed. A four-day preliminary hearing has now concluded, with the judge to deliver a decision on whether the case should go to trial in writing at a later date.
During Thursday’s session, barrister David Sherborne, representing the claimant group – which also includes Sir Elton John, Liz Hurley, Sadie Frost and former Liberal Democrat MP Sir Simon Hughes – said they had a “compelling case”.
It is alleged ANL commissioned 19 different private investigators to carry out a series of unlawful acts from 1993 to 2011 and beyond, which in some instances informed articles, Mr Sherborne said.
The group was “thrown off the scent by the way in which the articles were written”, the court heard.
Mr Sherborne later read out extracts from Baroness Lawrence’s witness statement, in which she said she felt “played for a fool” by the Daily Mail, believing the newspaper “really cared” about the injustice of the murder of her son Stephen.
“They were supposed to be our allies and friends, the good people, not the bad,” she said. Baroness Lawrence said she had believed information in articles about her had come from the police.
Mr Sherborne told the court: “That is nothing short of gaslighting Baroness Lawrence, that’s the form of concealment we are talking about.”
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The term gaslighting means to manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity or powers of reasoning.
Known as a campaigner and reformer, Baroness Lawrence has devoted herself to seeking justice for her 18-year-old son, an aspiring architect who was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack in southeast London in 1993.
The Daily Mail, under then editor Paul Dacre, campaigned to bring Mr Lawrence’s killers to justice, running a front page in 1997 that saw the newspaper brand five suspects “Murderers” – challenging them to sue if the headline was incorrect.
Baroness Lawrence was present in court for part of Thursday’s session, as were Harry and Sir Elton’s husband David Furnish, following appearances earlier in the week from Sir Elton and Frost.
Trial could be ‘substantial’ if it does go ahead
Adrian Beltrami KC, representing the publisher, previously told the court that all the claims “are rejected by the defendant in their entirety as are the unfounded allegations that are repeatedly made that the defendant either misled the Leveson Inquiry or concealed evidence from the Leveson Inquiry”.
The lawyer said the legal action against ANL has “no real prospects of succeeding” and is “barred” under a legal period of limitation.
After hearing the final arguments in the preliminary hearing, Mr Justice Nicklin told the court he would hand down his judgment on whether the case should go to trial as soon as he can.
He indicated earlier in the session that if the case does go to trial, it could be one that lasts for a “substantial period of time”.
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After hearing Baroness Lawrence’s claims during the first day of the preliminary hearing, an ANL spokesperson said: “While the Mail’s admiration for Baroness Lawrence remains undimmed, we are profoundly saddened that she has been persuaded to bring this case.
“The Mail remains hugely proud of its pivotal role in campaigning for justice for Stephen Lawrence. Its famous “Murderers” front page triggered the Macpherson report [an inquiry into Mr Lawrence’s death].
“Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, vigorously denies all the claims against it.”
Visitors to Wales could be paying an additional fee for staying overnight amid plans to introduce a tourism tax in the country.
The Welsh government says it is moving ahead with plans to introduce a “visitor levy” in Wales.
Local authorities will have powers to introduce a levy in their areas, the money would then be spent on maintaining the local area.
Plans will need to be rubber-stamped by the Senedd before they are introduced but they are likely to get passed it’s one of the policies included in the co-operation deal between the Labour government and Plaid Cymru which was agreed after the last Senedd election in 2021.
The Welsh government says the charge will be “small” at commercially-let overnight visitor accommodation.
The Welsh Conservatives, the largest opposition party in the Senedd, has accused the government of “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
A similar scheme is already in place in more than 40 destinations across the world including Greece, Frankfurt in Germany, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the Welsh government argues.
A consultation received over 1,000 responses and the government says there was support across most local authorities and other organisations.
Responses also came from tourism industry representatives and many disagreed with the principle of introducing a fee.
The Welsh government’s consumer research found that 58% of respondents thought tourists should pay towards the upkeep and investment in their local area.
It also found that support for tourism tax was highest in areas which attracted the most tourists.
‘Sledgehammer to crack a nut’
Finance and local government minister Rebecca Evans said: “We understand some businesses have reservations about a visitor levy and I am grateful to all those who took the time to respond to our consultation.
“These responses will be carefully considered as we continue to develop our specific plans for a levy.
“Many destinations around the world use visitor levies to empower and enhance their local areas for the benefit of visitors and locals alike – I am confident this will be the case here in Wales.”
Read more: Welsh council closes road for £6,500 clean-up after drivers throw rubbish Man guilty of murdering woman who mistook his home for B&B in North Wales
The Welsh Conservatives’ shadow tourism minister, Tom Giffard, voiced the party’s opposition to the plans.
“Nothing says welcome to Wales more than Labour announcing they will be pressing ahead with their toxic tourism tax as families gear up for the Easter holidays,” he said.
“Tourism supports one in seven jobs in Wales enabling people to pay council tax, helping to tackle the issues that Labour claim a tourism tax would fix.
“The Labour government should be working with the industry to boost this vital sector instead of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
Three people have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder after two men were found shot dead at two different locations in Cambridgeshire.
Police said they found the bodies of a 32-year-old and a 57-year-old after they were called to incidents on Wednesday evening.
They described the attacks as “targeted”.
Detective Inspector Mark Butler said: “Tonight we have launched two linked murder investigations following the shootings of two men at separate properties in the county.
“These events will be shocking to local people and there will be understandable concerns within local communities, however, we are treating the attacks as targeted and there is no wider risk to the general public. There will be an increased police presence in the areas concerned today and officers and scenes of crime officers will be at the scenes throughout the day.
“Our thoughts also go out to the family and friends of the victims. Specially trained officers are in touch with them and they are helping our investigation.
“Detectives are now beginning inquiries into how these events unfolded and we are appealing to anyone who was in either area and saw anyone acting suspiciously or a white Peugeot 208.”
A man who killed a golf greenkeeper by hitting him on the head with a horseshoe has been found guilty of murder.
Kirkpatrick Virgo struck Thomas Parker, 24, after the pair argued over loud music from a boombox speaker on a train.
The 42-year-old, from Slough, admitted manslaughter and carrying an offensive weapon, but denied murder.
An argument had broken out after Mr Parker’s brother Craig Parker, 27, told one of Virgo’s friends to turn the music down on a London to Reading Elizabeth Line train they were all travelling on at about 11pm last July.
The two groups shouted at each other before the argument was ended by off-duty police officers.
Virgo then followed the Parker brothers when the train arrived at Reading station.
During his evidence, Craig Parker told how he went to throw up behind a pillar as soon as the train arrived at Reading Station.
He said he felt ill from a McDonald’s milkshake he had consumed on the train.
“Once I vomited I felt Tom looking over me, making sure I was all right,” he said.
“Then it happened, so quickly, Tom was on the floor in front of me.”
Virgo took out horseshoe from rucksack and followed group
The court heard that Virgo had followed the group, removing a heavy metallic horseshoe from his rucksack, which he then used to hit Thomas Parker in the head.
Craig Parker told the court that he chased Virgo through the station as he did not want to let him get away.
“I was in a bear hug, grappling, just holding (him), I did not want to let him go,” he said.
After Virgo was detained, Mr Parker heard someone tell him that he needed to go back to his brother.
“I heard someone say ‘you best come down now’,” he said.
Mr Parker found his brother surrounded by paramedics.
Despite the efforts of emergency services, Thomas Parker was pronounced dead at 12.40am.
The court was told that Mr Parker died as a result of a subarachnoid haemorrhage after he was hit, meaning fragile blood vessels near his brain had burst and he had gone into cardiac arrest.
Drivers are paying 17p more per litre for diesel than petrol across the UK, despite identical wholesale prices.
The average price of a litre of petrol is 146.63p, while diesel costs an average of 164.26p at the forecourt, according to the RAC.
On the wholesale market, both fuels are selling for around 114.5p.
The price disparity was described as “absolutely shocking” by RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams.
He said: “At the beginning of March, wholesale diesel was only 6p more expensive than petrol yet there was a 20p-a-litre gap between both fuels on the forecourt.
“Now the two fuels are identical on the wholesale market, and there’s still more than 17p difference at the pump.”
Mr Williams said people who fill up at supermarket petrol stations should have been seeing prices at less than 150p per litre some weeks ago, as these stations are typically 4p per litre cheaper than the UK average.
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But many independent retailers are now charging far less than supermarket rivals, an indication of how much fuel retailing has changed, according to Mr Williams.
“This would have been pretty unusual several years ago but is now rapidly becoming the norm,” he said.
Membership-only chain Costco has been highlighted by RAC by charging just under 150p a litre for diesel.
In January, petrol prices fell below 150p a litre for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The decline was described by the AA as a “huge relief for drivers”.
Diesel did not fall at the same rate, dropping to an average of 172.2p per litre, falling another 7.9p to current costs.