Firefighter breaks the mould after sex harassment case

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The Independent Online
A woman firefighter yesterday took the highly unusual decision to return to her old job after winning compensation for sexual harrassment.

Jenny Hope, who accepted pounds 6,000 in an out-of-court settlement, said she was subjected to offensive behaviour and ridicule after joining the Bedfordshire and Luton Fire Service. Objectionable comments were made about her appearance and one male colleague even refused to speak to her, she said.

Ms Hope, a 31-year-old mother of two, said she was apprehensive about returning to work, but had received support from other firefighters in Bedford and thought that people had learned from their mistakes.

"I'm glad I've got the opportunity to go back. I hope things will be different and I can make a fresh start," she said.

Ms Hope, who has been on sick leave for eight months, told of her time in the service after joining two years ago: "I got the feeling that I wasn't wanted there because I was a woman. It seemed as if I had to justify myself all the time and in the end I lost my self-confidence.

"It went well beyond the normal banter you get in the fire service. It was unpleasant and I was angry and upset at the time. All I ever wanted was for it to stop so I could get on with my job of being a firefighter." Three firemen were given written warnings, sent on sex discrimination courses and moved to other fire stations following the complaints.

She hoped that other women who found themselves in similar situations could see it was possible to take their case to an industrial tribunal and still return to their jobs.

Bronwen Jenkins, of trade union solicitors Thompsons, said it was unusual for a woman in such a case to return to work. "Normally they suffer double jeopardy - sex discrimination and losing their job."

Ken Cameron, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said he was delighted Ms Hope felt that she could go back to work."By pursuing sexual harrassment cases for members and negotiating proper equal opportunites procedures, we are beginning to change attitudes."

Paul Brown, deputy chief fire officer, said the brigade admitted no liability in the case and said the settlement was "amicable and productive".

Barrie Clement