pounds 950 death payment for firefighter unchanged

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

The Government has refused to increase the pounds 950 lump sum received by the parents of the heroine Fleur Lombard, the first female firefighter to be killed on active duty in Britain.

Despite protests from the Fire Brigades Union, the Home Office has decided not to change the system under which only a small "death grant" is available to bereaved parents.

The firefighter, 21, was killed in February when the roof of a Co-op store in Bristol collapsed as she went in to see if shoppers were trapped. Her family has set up a trust fund for the rehabilitation of firefighters in her name.

The decision by ministers also means that the common law wife of the Gwent firefighter Kevin Lane, who died fighting a fire two days earlier, will not receive a pension. Although she was the mother of Mr Lane's 10- year-old son, they were not married and she therefore does not qualify to receive the benefit.

The wife of a colleague, Stephen Griffin, who died in the same blaze in February, will receive full pension rights. Both men had entered a blazing house at Blaina believing that a child was trapped inside.

Ken Cameron, leader of the firefighters' union, denounced the decision as "miserly and unfeeling". Referring to expressions of sympathy by John Major after the deaths, Mr Cameron said: "So much for the fine words of the Prime Minister when the `selfless bravery' he refers to is rewarded in a manner which is more suited to the last century."

Ministers have told the joint pension committee for the fire service that proposals to change the system so that relatives other than wives and husbands can benefit from pensions, "should not be taken any further".

A separate compensation scheme administered by a joint union-management committee, paid the pounds 950 to Ms Lombard's parents. This scheme recognises common law wives so that both the partners of the Gwent firefighters will receive pounds 85,000.

In a letter to Mr Cameron, Baroness Blatch, Home Office minister, said the firefighters' pension arrangements were generous compared with private-sector schemes.