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Brian Coleman to be questioned over freebie dinners with strike-breaking firm

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By Ross Lydall

Fun and games are expected at Thursday's meeting of the London fire authority.

First, a delegation of women firefighters will protest outside the 2pm meeting to demand the reinstatement of Sian Griffiths, who has been suspended on an alleged charge of bullying a strike-breaking woman colleague.

Ms Griffiths, 50, right, described by the brigade as a "trailblazer", was escorted off the premises just two days after receiving the Queen's Fire Service Medal at Buckingham Palace. She has received more than 600 messages of support since I broke the story last week.

The meeting itself could prove awkward for the authority's Tory chairman, Brian Coleman. Darren Johnson, a Green member of the London Assembly, is demanding an investigation into two notorious incidents of firefighters being injured on the picket line during the two recent FBU walk-outs.

(i) Question 257 from Councillor Darren Johnson AM (Green Party):
Will the Chairman request the Commissioner undertakes a formal investigation, including an independent element, of the following reported incidents during industrial action on 1 November: 1 of 3
a) firefighter hit by a car at Croydon Fire Station, and withholding of first aid equipment; b) FBU London representative and firefighter hit by fire engines at Southwark Fire Station
And will the Chairman ensure that the findings of such an investigation are published?

UPDATE Nov 19: At yesterday's meeting Mr Coleman answered: "No." Darren Johnson accused him of "pouring oil on the flames" of the unresolved fire dispute by suggesting axeing 27 engines, describing the proposal as "just plain barking mad". He told Mr Coleman: "You have become so addicted to conflict it's become your way of life... it's become a drug for you."

In addition, Labour's Navin Shah is asking a potentially embarrassing question about the (declared) hospitality received by Mr Coleman from Asset Co, the private firm that won a £12 million deal to provide emergency fire cover and whose contractors stood in for striking firefighters.

The dinners, at Shepherd's restaurant in Westminster, a favourite hang-out of MPs, were all from Asset Co chief exec John Shannon (left). In January this year the pair changed venues - opting instead for Green's restaurant in Duke Street, Mayfair.

It could of course be argued that it made sense for the pair to meet regularly in advance of signing a contract using such vast sums of public money. What's more, the sums are modest - more than can be said of the bill racked up by former FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist at the Cinnamon Club. I also expect Mr Coleman, right, to have worked out with lawyers in advance how to rule the question out of order. Here's Navin's question:

Councillor Navin Shah AM (Leader, Labour Group):
The recent press coverage concerning the hospitality outlined below which was received by you from Asset Co prior to the award of a contract:
· Lunch to a value of £25 on 30 October 2007
· Dinner to a value of £50 on 23 July 2008
· A Harvey Nichols hamper to a value of £350 on 24 December 2008
· Dinner to a value of £40 on 19 January 2009
has been highly critical. Do you now accept that these actions reflect poor judgement and a lack of sensitivity on your part and will you now assure Londoners that such damaging conduct will not be repeated in the future?

UPDATE Nov 19: Mr Coleman replied: "I would have thought that the Member would have used the Chairman's Questions opportunity to raise important issues of Authority policy." He added: "My entirely proper relationship with AssetCo will continue."

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16th November 2010