Lancashire firefighter sacked for gross misconduct after sex acts banter with recruits

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A Lancashire firefighter has been sacked after he joked about a sex act with recruits.

 

Richard Holden, 46, has been dismissed for “gross misconduct” after a disciplinary investigation into “inappropriate comments” made during a team building event in September 2020.

Based at Preesall fire station near Fleetwood, Mr Holden was reported to senior colleagues after he repeatedly joked about a particular sex act.

The 46-year-old said he had not known what the term meant when it was first mentioned by a young female recruit.

A 46-year-old firefighter has been sacked for "gross misconduct" after a disciplinary investigation into "inappropriate comments" made during a team building event in September 2020

A 46-year-old firefighter has been sacked for “gross misconduct” after a disciplinary investigation into “inappropriate comments” made during a team building event in September 2020

But the part-timer, who was training to be a full-time firefighter, said he started using the term himself in an attempt to fit in with the younger recruits.

He had previously fronted campaign posters to promote ‘values’ within the fire service and regularly raised money for the firefighters charity. In 2018, he was awarded an ‘LFRS Star award’ for his service.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) said Mr Holden had never been involved with any other disciplinary incidents prior to this.

In addition to the ‘inappropriate” sex talk, LFRS said his conduct during its internal investigation constituted “separate and further breaches of the service’s values”.

He was fired after the tribunal concluded he had shown a “lack of honesty” and “no remorse” during its investigation.

Further details emerged at an employment tribunal in Manchester where Holden, who joined the brigade in 2014, lost his claim for unfair dismissal.

What did the tribunal report say?

The tribunal report read: “The claimant’s lack of honesty, and his attempts to minimise what he had done during the investigation and disciplinary hearing, were in fact separate and further breaches of the respondent’s values.

“His lack of remorse and acceptance of wrongdoing also meant that he was less likely to amend his behaviour in the future.

“There would therefore be the possibility that he would breach the values again in some way, making him an unsuitable employee.”

It was decided that Mr Holden’s overall behaviour amounted to gross misconduct, which justified immediate dismissal.

Two of the young recruits, a man and a woman, were spared dismissal and handed written warnings. Their conduct was deemed ‘less serious’ because it took place outside work hours, the tribunal heard.

Mr Holden later submitted an appeal on the grounds that the severity of the sanction was too harsh and inconsistent with similar cases.

The tribunal also heard how Holden had stood up against bullying and dishonesty and devoted his own time to raise money for mental health charities and other good causes.

However, the tribunal found that Mr Holden had been fairly dismissed.

What did Richard Holden say at his appeal?

He said: “While I was certainly naive during the days we are discussing, it was concluded in the hearing that I had been dishonest, evasive and restricted.

“I haven’t been in any way dishonest or evasive at any point as is proven by my immediate and complete admittance of my part in each of the circumstances questioned.

“I was the only one dismissed and the increased severity of my treatment seems to be based on my not showing as much remorse and emotion.

“I have confirmed all along I knew it was a sexual activity, and I knew and accepted it was stupid to say it, and for that reason I apologised to the instructor immediately at the end of the lecture.

“But I did not understand the gravity of the comment when I said it until afterwards. There is no dishonesty in my case – the severity of my dismissal is much too harsh.”

What did the tribunal judge say at the hearing?

Judge Brian Doyle said: “He was much older than the other recruits on the course, as many of the recruits were in their twenties, whereas he was in his forties.

“He tried his best to join in conversations and to be part of the group.

“Most of the conversation was around partners and the topic turned to sexual matters.

“One recruit mentioned how her last partner had enjoyed a particular sex act.

“The claimant asked about the meaning of the word because he had no idea what it meant and he had the impression that he was the only one who did not know what this meant.

“She explained what it was and another recruit said he also enjoyed it.

‘”It was the station manager’s view that everyone bar Mr Holden took responsibility for their actions, were remorseful and, she believed, would be able to demonstrate those values in their future employment with the respondent service.

“In her view, the claimant’s lack of honesty, and his attempts to minimise what he had done during the investigation and disciplinary hearing, were in fact separate and further breaches of the respondent’s values.

“She regarded him as having displayed a lack of integrity, showed that he could not be trusted, and demonstrated a lack of respect to the respondent service and the disciplinary procedure by not being honest.

“His lack of remorse and acceptance of wrongdoing, she considered, also meant that he was less likely to amend his behaviour in the future.

“There would therefore be the possibility that he would breach the values again in some way, making him an unsuitable employee.”

What has LFRS said about the tribunal outcome?

Bob Warren, director of people and development, at LFRS said: “Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is pleased that the tribunal has agreed with the outcome of our internal investigation.

“The service strives to keep a safe and positive environment for all staff and we have a set of values to help us achieve this.

“Where any employee fails to live up to the standards that we set, we will take the appropriate action.”