Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Fire chief ignored memo over sponsored Land Rover

The memo from Colin Lammey concerning the Land Rover
The Land Rover which was at the centre of a Fire Service dispute
Acting Chief Fire Officer Peter Craig

This is the memo ordering a fire chief to return a Land Rover he had received under a sponsorship arrangement – which he then failed to comply with.

Peter Craig was told to give the vehicle back after it had been spotted by his "shocked" boss.

He defied the instruction, instead arranging for the Land Rover to be put in storage before bringing it back when he became chief fire officer.

A damning Public Accounts Committee report this week criticised Mr Craig for disregarding proper procedures by not complying with his boss's instructions.

The report described how Mr Craig, who was assistant chief fire officer at the time, received the Land Rover under a sponsorship arrangement with Charles Hurst car dealers in November 2009.

It was to be used to support a road safety education programme, but the arrangement was made without the knowledge or approval of then chief fire officer Colin Lammey.

When Mr Lammey became aware of the arrangement he instructed Mr Craig to return the vehicle to the supplier.

The PAC said: "Mr Lammey was rightly concerned about possible perceptions of favouritism as other firms had not been given an opportunity to apply for a sponsorship deal."

Mr Lammey's written memo, dated December 3, 2009, and headlined 'LANDROVER', states: "Peter, I was in the Training Centre yesterday and was shocked to see the Land Rover.

"This vehicle should immediately be removed from any NIFRS premises and be returned to Ardmore Advertising [the NIFRS media consultant who had arranged the sponsorship], and back to the suppliers with no further implications for Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service."

Mr Craig did not return the vehicle to the supplier. Instead it was sent to Ardmore Advertising with the instruction that it be placed in storage but remain at the fire service's disposal.

The PAC report said Mr Craig wrongly told consultants that no definitive decision could be taken on the future of the vehicle until a new chief fire officer had been appointed, since Mr Lammey was due to retire in the near future.

At some point after Mr Craig was appointed chief fire officer, he authorised the return of the vehicle to NIFRS, and it was in use by May 2011.

When fire service chairman Joe McKee learned of the matter, he told Mr Craig he had made a major error of judgment and told him to return the vehicle.

It was returned to Charles Hurst in June 2011.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned the Land Rover was sold on to a retail customer living in the Sheepbridge area of Newry by Charles Hurst a few days later.

Mr Craig later claimed he returned the Land Rover to the supplier – who he took to mean Ardmore Advertising – "as he (Mr Lammey) instructed".

The report said it was clear Mr Lammey meant the vehicle should have gone back to Charles Hurst.

The report said it is "concerning" that Mr Craig still maintains he followed Mr Lammey's instructions – despite the PAC saying it had inspected the memo and there was "no possible ambiguity on the matter".

"The committee considers that Mr Craig's behaviour demonstrated a lack of understanding of the responsibilities of an Accounting Officer and the standard of conduct expected of someone in that role," the report said.

Charles Hurst confirmed that in 2009 it had "made a vehicle available to NIFRS with full NIFRS- Charles Hurst vehicle livery – and not any one individual – on the basis it was to be used, on loan, by the community development team in support of a road education programme".

It added: "Charles Hurst is a company which tangibly supports the communities in which it operates and which regularly contributes to a wide and varied number of initiatives as part of its corporate and social responsibility commitment."

FACTFILE

A scathing Public Accounts Committee report strongly criticised the dysfunctional culture and weak leadership at the fire service. Its key findings included:

* Former chief fire officer Peter Craig behaved reprehensibly by suspending whistleblower Linda Ford, who made allegations of financial wrongdoing;

* Staff could claim overtime for attending events which never took place;

* Unauthorised salary payments totalling more than £50,000 were made to other senior officers;

* A fire service store manager also ran his own private company selling protective clothing to other fire authorities.

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