Tribunal rules in favour of Laurieston firefighter

Firefighters tackle a fire on the Star and Garter Hotel in Linlithgow
Firefighters tackle a fire on the Star and Garter Hotel in Linlithgow
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Fire chiefs have been criticised after a female firefighter was found to be unfairly dismissed.

Anne Marie Macdonald was demoted two ranks following an investigation by Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service over her alleged conduct.

Its inquiry particularly focused on her management of a recruit when she was a watch manager at Bo’ness Fire Station.

Ms Macdonald (45), of Laurieston, had over 20 years’ service and had a clean disciplinary record until she was suspended in April 2011 pending the initial investigation.

She is also a member of the Grangemouth-based International Rescue Corps, the charity which goes around the world to help search for disaster victims.

The firefighter took her case for reinstatement to an employment tribunal which sat in Edinburgh hearing evidence for three days in October then a further two days in both February and March.

A written judgement has now revealed that it was a unanimous decision of the three members that Ms Macdonald had been unfairly dismissed.

However, as the Central Scotland service no longer exists with the unified Scottish Fire and Rescue Service coming into being on April 1, there may have to be a further hearing to determine how the matter now proceeds.

The tribunal was told an investigation produced a 578-page report and concluded she had treated the recruit “unfairly” and had been “negligent in her duty”, recommending disciplinary action should be taken.

Much of its finding centred on a fire in October 2010 at the Star and Garter hotel in Linlithgow attended by Ms Macdonald’s watch where they were unable to save the building.

She later raised concerns with a senior officer that had been brought to her by a firefighter who had been sent into the burning building with the recruit who he told her had “froze”.

In September 2011 she was told there were seven charges against her including negligence in her role, victimisation and unfair treatment of the recruit.

At a hearing the following month, chaired by Iain McCusker, the service’s director of service support, he concluded all the charges were established and amounted to gross misconduct sufficient to merit dismissal.

However, he decided to demote her two ranks, involving a loss of salary and pension benefits, and impose a final written warning.

Ms Macdonald appealed this decision and, on December 20, 2011, Chief Fire Officer Kenny Taylor heard the case, upholding some but not all of the allegations.

At the employment tribunal, the fire service solicitor argued that the dismissal was “fair and reasonable”.

However, after hearing the evidence, this was rejected by the tribunal saying some of it was “troubling” with many of the allegations “a hotch pot”.

It concluded “there was more than a hint of the claimant being made a scapegoat”, adding “there was a distinct whiff of her being a ‘fall guy’ for something”.

The written report noted Ms Macdonald was a “credible witness on whose evidence it could rely”. However, it said: “The tribunal was rather less impressed by Mr McCusker, at least in so far as his reasoning processes were concerned ... it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that, for some reason, he was determined to reach a particular conclusion despite the information before him.”

It also agreed with the claimant’s solicitor who criticised the service for not calling fire chief Kenny Taylor to give evidence.

As the service had failed to show a reason for dismissal the tribunal ruled it was unfair.

Last night, Ms Macdonald said: “As I am still an employee of the fire service, I feel it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter.

“I have found the last three years extremely difficult and very distressing, but found great comfort in the support I received from my husband, family, friends, neighbours, and from my colleagues in the fire service and the International Rescue Corps.

‘‘I will be eternally grateful to them, and to my lawyer, Alison Forsyth, for her abilities, skills and guidance through the complexities of employment law.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We have requested further information from the employment tribunal regarding their decision. This will inform how we respond. Due to the ongoing nature of these proceedings it would be inappropriate to comment further.”