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Firefighter initiation ceremony 'just an excuse for abuse', court told

A firefighter was strapped onto a stretcher, drenched in cold water and dangled off a rescue tower in a degrading "initiation ceremony", he told a court.

Novices on Green Watch at Tilbury station, Essex, were subjected to physical and indecent abuse during the late 80s and early 90s, Basildon Crown Court was told.

Anthony Benham, 50, of Stanford-le Hope, and Ian Maguire, 55, of Benfleet, allegedly locked recruits in a room filled with water, urinated on them through a skylight and pushed a sausage up their bottoms, jurors heard.

Both face four counts of indecent assault and 10 counts of false imprisonment between 1988 and 1997.

Firefighter Carl Cooper joined Essex Fire and Rescue Service in 1988 at the age of 23 and was stationed on the Green Watch at Tilbury.

Mr Cooper said there was "no such thing as an initiation" but that it was "just an excuse" to carry out abuse.

"Being restrained and tied up the tower was called an initiation," he added.

He told the jury that he was subjected to an "initiation" three weeks into his service.

"You were found on the station by Mr Maguire, Mr Benham and other members of the watch," he said.

"You were usually put in a headlock by Mr Maguire, once you were there there was no escape.

"One minute you're standing up and the next you're in a headlock.

"There's nothing you could do, Mr Maguire was a big guy, powerful."

He told the jury Maguire dragged him into a bay, strapped him onto a stretcher and hoisted him up the rescue tower on a line.

"I wasn't happy and I wasn't comfortable but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it," Mr Cooper said.

"It was impossible to break free.

"There was lots of noise, lots of laughter, lots of excitability."

He added: "I was then rolled over so that I was face down.

"I was then lifted and pulled until I was off the ground, face down.

"I was suspended in the air facing the ground.

"A hose reel was inserted in my trouser leg, the cold water was then turned on until it was running out of my belt line.

"There was lots of jeering, lots of laughing."

Mr Cooper continued: "I was extremely uncomfortable, I was fearful the knots would fail or the line would fail and I would hit the floor face down.

"I was beginning to lose the feeling in my arms."

The jury was shown a photograph Maguire allegedly took of Mr Cooper while he was suspended upside-down in the air.

"This photograph was taken on my camera, I developed it," Mr Cooper said.

He added that he showed the picture to Maguire, who replied "nobody should ever see this".

Mr Cooper described his facial expression in the photo as "a pained grimace" and said he felt "drained" after the ordeal.

"I certainly didn't feel fit immediately to respond to a fire call," he added.

Maguire was known as Number One and had "a lot of sway in what we did and when we did it", Mr Cooper told the jury.

He said Maguire was at the top of the "pecking order" on the watch and had "no fear of people taking the mickey out of him or being jumped on".

"Mr Benham would always follow Mr Maguire and again he was very relaxed because there was no fear of anything happening to him."

Mr Cooper said he and the other recruits were subjected to abuse on a daily basis.

"Everything was designed and done to humiliate and draw attention and put down.

"It was a daily occurrence, more than once every day, every night, they would pick up on absolutely everything you did, whether you did it right or wrong.

"The attention was always on you. We were new toys."

He added: "If you made a complaint all you would do was to draw attention to yourself.

"That would mean more abuse, more verbal abuse, more put-downs."

Mr Cooper said Benham urinated on him through a skylight while he was locked in a tiny room with several other recruits.

He told the jury he was locked into the 4ft square room, known as "the airlock", as it was filled with water and foam.

"On the second occasion the fear of being in the airlock had gone because we knew what to expect," he added.

"But what I didn't expect was what Mr Benham did next which was to say 'I'm going to p*** on you'.

"He then undid his trousers and proceeded to urinate on us."

Mr Cooper continued: "We were fighting with each other to try and get under the stream of water."

He said there was "no point" in trying to report the incidents.

"As a recruit at Tilbury you were made to feel like you were worthless," he added.

"No one would listen to you anyway so it was just a case of keep quiet and move on.

"I don't feel I did anything to deserve that kind of treatment."

Mr Cooper told the jury: "It was horrendous, I nearly left the job because of it and I never wanted to go back."

Another firefighter was clingfilmed to a lamppost and had ice blocks attached to his genitals, the jury was told.

In one incident a man had muscle relaxant rubbed on his private parts and another man's genitals were dyed, it is claimed.

Prosecutor Stephen Rose said Maguire and Benham took advantage of "the culture of practical jokes and intimidation" to " indulge in acts of indecent degradation to new recruits".

He said their actions amounted to "extreme bullying and degrading sexual treatment".

Both men no longer work as firefighters. Maguire later joined the police and Benham retired due to ill health, the court heard.

They each deny all the charges against them.


From Belfast Telegraph