QUESTIONS have been raised about the secrecy surrounding a decision to pay the region’s former deputy chief fire officer £250,000 amid claims of sexual discrimination.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance says it is deeply worried about the lack of transparency surrounding the decision by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.

As reported in your Worcester News yesterday, Lucy Phillips left the service in August with a quarter-of-a-million pound payout.

It has now been revealed that a confidentiality agreement was agreed by both the authority and Mrs Phillips at the time of the settlement.

The 48-year-old from Worcester lodged a claim for sexual discrimination after being refused promotion to chief fire officer. It is believed her claim involved that decision and her subsequent treatment.

But her payoff, which also included pension payments and a private out-of-court settlement, was decided upon by Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority members in a behind-closed-doors meeting kept secret from the public.

Matthew Sinclaire, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s deeply worrying that a huge sum of taxpayers’ money had been paid out in this case, and what’s worse is that those who are actually footing the bill don’t know why.

“Until we see proper transparency, questions will remain about this agreement, and whether it’s covering up some sort of failing or wrongdoing within the authority.

“Ultimately, fire chiefs need to be accountable over how they use, or misuse, taxpayers’ money.

“The secrecy of this pay-out is preventing that.”

The fire authority says it agreed to the settlement after advice from its lawyers, who warned that taking the complaint to tribunal could end up costing more money.

Councillor Brigadier Jones, deputy chairman of the fire authority, yesterday defended the private settlement.

He said: “We took legal advice over it and that was the decision we came to. She took early retirement and we followed all the correct procedures – we are satisfied everything was done correctly and I totally refute what the Taxpayers’ Alliance has said.”

A memo was e-mailed to all the members of the fire authority on Thursday reminding them “the matter remains confidential”.

Yesterday your Worcester News handed in a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see the confidential documents surrounding the decision.