Belfast Telegraph

Fire chief accused of indecent assault is still suspended as legal process begins

Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Gary Thompson
Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Gary Thompson
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A Northern Ireland fire chief charged with indecently assaulting a female remains on precautionary suspension.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) confirmed that Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Gary Thompson is still suspended from his role but would not clarify if he remains on full salary.

According to the NIFRS annual report for 2018/19, Mr Thompson has an annual salary of £120,000-£125,000, with a pension worth £37,000.

At Thursday's sitting of Ballymena Magistrates Court, a defence solicitor for Mr Thompson said that he "strenuously denies" the allegations.

The Newtownabbey man faces nine charges of indecently assaulting one female on dates in 2006.

Mr Thompson (51), of Rogan Wood, was in the dock for a preliminary enquiry, the legal step to send a case to the Crown Court.

A court clerk read out the first charge and said there were eight other similar charges.

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The defendant confirmed he did not object to the holding of a preliminary enquiry, while a prosecution lawyer submitted that on the basis of the papers before the court there was a case to answer. Defence solicitor Derwin Harvey said he had no contrary submissions.

Mr Thompson confirmed he was aware of the charges and when asked by the court clerk if he wished to say anything in relation to the charges he replied: "Not at this stage."

The defendant was released on continuing bail of £750 and Deputy District Judge Noel Dunlop sent the case to Antrim Crown Court for arraignment in early January. Mr Thompson was given a precautionary suspension as Chief Fire and Rescue Officer in December 2018.

In a statement at the time, the NIFRS said: "NIFRS confirms that the Chief Fire and Rescue Officer, Mr Gary Thompson, has been placed on precautionary suspension with effect from December 10, 2018.

"Precautionary suspension is a neutral action in line with NIFRS policies and procedures.

NIFRS is not in a position to make any further comment at this time."

Mr Thompson has links to the social justice charity Extern.

A spokeswoman for Extern said on Thursday: "Extern can confirm a board member has been placed on precautionary suspension.

"This precautionary suspension is without prejudice of any outcome and is in line with Extern's policies and procedures."

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