Head of Personal Injury Strategy Gerard Stilliard celebrates the FBU's 100th Anniversary
At Thompsons Solicitors we are very proud to help the FBU celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Our organisations’ histories have been entwined almost since we were established – the FBU in 1918 and Thompsons just three years later.
As far back as 1941, the FBU and Thompsons shared offices in Bedford Row, London, and worked closely together. When the National Fire Service was set up that year, it was thought that the FBU might have to disassociate itself from the Labour Party and TUC under the Trades Disputes Act. Advice from our founder, WH Thompson, was pivotal in ensuring the Home Secretary dismissed that suggestion in parliament.
That close relationship has endured and, just last month, we were delighted to welcome the FBU General Secretary, Matt Wrack, as the keynote speaker at our annual partners meeting.
Our Work with the FBU
Back in 1975, Arthur Charles, a Thompsons' solicitor who specialised in firefighter cases addressed the FBU conference and explained his basic philosophy that he had followed from the 1950s and is still true today:
We made brigades realise that if they do not work properly, if they do not devise a safe system of working, people are going to be injured and it is going to cost money. [T]he work you have done as a union and the work behind the scenes I have been proud to do for you [and] make the courts say: “This shall not be. If it is, you will pay money.”
In the 1980s, we ran the case of Ogwo all the way to the House of Lords and established that an occupier of premises who negligently allows a fire to break out would be liable should a firefighter who is subsequently injured tackling the blaze.
The case of Hale v LUL (1992) established that firefighters should receive a special award for loss of congenial employment if their injuries required them to give up the work which they loved.
Ff Hale’s case arose out of the 1987 Kings Cross fire. In the aftermath of that disaster, Thompsons worked with the FBU for improved safety standards, including better personal protective equipment.
"Thompsons has stood with the FBU for almost all of the last 100 years and is proud to have done so. We add our congratulations to the union as you mark your centenary as we ourselves continue our solidarity with firefighters and their families for many years to come."
Smoker v LFCDA (1991) was another significant Thompsons and FBU victory, ensuring that workers who have paid into a pension do not have to account for that pension when claiming future wage loss, often making a huge difference to their financial position in ill-health retirement, which has since often made a huge difference to the financial position of a firefighter retired on ill health grounds.
In the pensions cases of McCalman and Lockwood (2000) and Marrion and others (2009), we again scored important victories for FBU members. In the first case, we were able to persuade the Court of Appeal that injured firefighters could not be forced to take on non-firefighting work when injury rendered them incapable of firefighting. In the second, working with the FBU we defeated an argument from the London fire brigade that the firefighter, who, because of injury, was unable to carry out some aspects of their job, could be dismissed without a pension simply because they were still able to carry out other aspects of their role.
In 2006, we won the part-time firefighters’ pension case of Matthews, which Matt Wrack described as a “momentous decision [which] paves the way to ending 60 years of discrimination against firefighters working retained duty.”
Bull (2007) was an important case, eventually decided in the Court of Appeal who ruled in our favour that firefighters could not be required to work as “co-responders”, i.e. as an auxiliary paramedic, as such roles were clearly outside a firefighter’s contract.
Earlier this year, in the South Yorkshire CPC case, together we put a stop to the employers’ unlawful attempt to impose a working week of 96 hours of effectively continuous duty. We argued successfully that the High Court should grant a declaration to the effect that the Authority’s CPC shift system is contrary to the rights of firefighters under regulation 10 of the Working Time Regulations.
The judge did “not feel able to refuse relief where there is a conscious decision to commit a continuing and systematic breach of the law.”
Sadly far too often in recent years, we have found ourselves having to grapple with legal issues arising from the death of firefighters killed in the line of duty: at Bethnal Green Road in East London (2004), at Harrow Court in Stevenage (2005), at Marlie Farm, East Sussex (2006), at Atherstone on Stour, Warwickshire (2007) at Shirley Towers, Southampton (2010) and at Oldham Street, Manchester (2013). In each of these tragedies we expose the catastrophic failures of duty by building owners and others but we have also been privileged to be witness to the collective courage of FBU members and see the wonderful support they and their families receive from the FBU.
Currently we are representing and advising the union and its members in connection with the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster. It is close to miraculous that we are not talking about FBU fatalities in that fire and Thompsons is proud to assist the FBU in its principled fight for truth and justice for the 72 residents who died, the bereaved and the wider community, to ensure that Grenfell acts as a turning point for better regulation and an end to the Tory austerity policies which have so weakened our standards of fire cover.
Thompsons has stood with the FBU for almost all of the last 100 years and is proud to have done so. We add our congratulations to the union as you mark your centenary as we ourselves continue our solidarity with firefighters and their families for many years to come.