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Firefighters want justice for Josh after leaked shock report

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A SHOCKING draft report into the circumstances of the death of a firefighter in Pembrokeshire in 2019 is firmly pointing the finger at senior management, despite two firefighters being dismissed before the conclusion of the criminal investigation.

Multiple members of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS), The Fire Brigade Union and The Fire Authority have contacted this newspaper expressing disgust and grave concerns that action has not been taken to rectify systemic failings which could ‘lead to another death in the future.’

The Herald has been investigating this matter for months, and our team has met with many sources alleging that MAWWFRS are trying to ‘brush their failings under the carpet’ to avoid accountability for their part in the death of Milford Haven Firefighter Josh Gardener. He died in a boat training exercise aged just 35-years-old, on September 17, 2019.

A hard-hitting report published by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) in February 2021, into the circumstances surrounding the death which was labelled ‘avoidable’ blamed “systemic, organisational and procedural failings”.

The MAIB criticised the senior management at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, specifically highlighting Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service documentation and procedures for boat operations were out of date, unclear and presented confusing safety messages to the reader.

At the time of the report, the Fire Brigade Union issued a statement on the findings. In that statement they said: “The issues identified in this report must be addressed and individual firefighters must not be blamed for systemic, organisational, and procedural failing.”

Milford Haven County Councillor, Stephen Joseph, who also sits on the Fire Authority said: “A number of firefighters past and present have raised their concerns with me over this investigation and the failings of the Fire Authority management.

Cllr Joseph who has the fire station in his ward added: “I am becoming increasingly concerned about what I am hearing and reading.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to read the complete draft FBU report however, I have been quoted sections which are quite damning.

“I am very proud to be a serving member of the Fire Authority Panel and their Health & Safety Champion. I will be demanding that the report is brought into the public domain and that those responsible for any mistakes made are held accountable, whatever position they hold.

“Josh Gardener was a friend of mine and I am unhappy about the time it is taking for things to come into the light.

“It upsets me greatly if this coming into the press again is upsetting for Josh’s family, but I feel strongly that we owe it to Josh, his family and other serving firefighters to have the incident fully and correctly investigated and for justice to be brought.”

Josh (centre) with colleagues

A former senior Fire Brigade Union representative added his thoughts on the report, he said: “Having had experience of how it is run, I would agree with the findings – it highlights the common traits exhibited by the service.”

Our sources all tell of a fear about speaking out and highlighting safety concerns. The Herald asked him what members of the service should do to highlight them, he said: “An atmosphere that exists within the service has been cultivated out of fear and intimidation.

“The Fire Brigade Union is always a good place to start to raise concerns”

He added: “A life has been lost, the service is so divorced from the top to the bottom, to those up top this is not the loss of life of one of their own like it is for those on the front line.”

SCAPEGOATS FOR MANAGEMENT FAILIURE

The fire service has terminated the employment of two Milford Haven firefighters because of Josh’s death, yet, no senior management have been held accountable. Allegations that the firefighters have been made scapegoats for failing at the top level have been made.

It is alleged that the two firefighters’ employment was terminated based on their behaviour on the day in question, but why has no one senior been held accountable for their part in the now obvious health and safety failings – which included serious breaches such as not issuing the trainees with helmets.

The Herald asked the service if they think that the sacking of two firefighters was justified based on the findings of the report, and if individual firefighters can be held accountable for their actions, why has the same not been applied to senior members of management. They have refused to comment on that point. A MAWWFRS spokesperson said only: “As investigations by external bodies remain ongoing and a date for a full inquest by the HM Coroner for Pembrokeshire has yet to be set, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time”.

Multiple sources have told this newspaper that members of the service, The Fire Authority and The Fire Brigade Union have brought up the findings in the reports regularly and asked about justice for Josh in senior management meetings. The answer is: “the investigation is ongoing” and “stop asking questions!”.

Serving firefighters have told this newspaper that they will not stop asking questions and will continue to voice their concerns until justice for Josh has been served, and clear lessons have been learnt so no more lives are lost.

THEY KNEW CREWS WEREN’T COMPETENT

Since the MAIB report was published, the Herald has been given possession of a document which shows that concerns were raised by the crew at Milford Haven about their abilities to operate the ribs, just six weeks prior to Josh’s death.

In a form, presented to the Assistant Chief Fire Officer at the time, Iwan Cray, on August 7, 2019, it says: “Skill sets have eroded with regards to the large rib. Are we likely to be upskilled to be able to perform our duties within our risk area, at present we can’t?”

As per the service’s safety protocol, if crews are not competent to use any apparatus, or their qualifications are out of date, then it is pulled out of circulation until competency is regained. We asked the service, why wasn’t the rib taken off service until crews training were back to the standard that was required to operate them safely. No reply was given.

The foreknowledge of the lack of competency was mentioned within the draft report. It says: “Another example of an apparent dichotomy arises with a different ACO, who, six weeks before Josh died, was formally notified of the lack of competence in boat crew in Milford Haven.”

It added: “However, despite the extensive ignorance, MAWWFRS knew that crews were not competent.”

Rib: Craft taken away for examination (Pic MAIB)

INTERNAL INVESTIGATION

An internal investigation was launched by MAWWFRS following Josh’s death, however the officer in charge of the investigation was the same officer who the concerns were raised to about the shortcomings in the crew’s ability to operate the ribs. In another blow to the credibility of the internal investigation, our sources have confirmed that the same principal officer is also the Head of Health & Safety for the service.

The Herald has asked the fire service, based on the conflict of interest that the documents highlight, if they felt that the appropriate person was appointed to conduct said investigation. No comment from the fire service on this point either.

The draft report refers to this claim, it says: “He then became the corporate lead on the investigation into Josh’s death but perplexingly no mention was made of this ACO’s foreknowledge of the lack of competence of boat crews.”

HEALTH & SAFETY FAILURES

The Herald has been presented with significant amounts of material, which suggests that the service is dragging its heels in dealing with Josh Gardener’s death.

Between two reports, one by the MAIB and the draft report leaked to this newspaper we can now publish that the main failures which lead to Josh’s death are:

  • No risk assessments carried out
  • The operation of the boats did not adhere to the requirements of the local standard operating procedures
  • No-one was in overall charge of the training and familiarisation activities, so they were not properly managed, briefed or communicated between the crews of both boats
  • No ppe given so nobody was wearing helmets on the rib
  • Rescue 1 (the big rib) did not have the correct number of members on board to meet the minimum occupancy required to operate it
  • The standard operating procedures for all fire and rescue service boats in the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service were insufficient in content and contained incorrect information
  • Hand held radio were issued without checks
  • No lookouts were in place 
  • The Fire and Rescue Services in the United Kingdom did not operate boats to a common standard or code of practice when not employed on flood rescue duties
  • Instructors qualifications were years out of date
Funeral: Hundreds lined the streets to pay their respects (Pic M Cavaney)

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION

The criminal investigation into the death of Josh involved multiple agencies under the Work Related Death Protocol, which has been run by Dyfed-Powys Police, MAIB, The HSE and The Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The MAIB released a report into their findings into the death of Josh in February 2020.

Dyfed-Powys Police confirmed their involvement in the criminal investigation concluded at the end of February and their findings have been reported to The Health & Safety Executive and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

A Police spokesperson said: “Our investigation has concluded and been passed on to the Health and Safety Executive and Maritime and Coastguard Authority.”

A HSE spokesperson said: “Following the conclusion of Dyfed-Powys Police’s investigation, primacy for the continuing criminal investigation under the Work Related Death Protocol is joint between the Health and Safety Executive and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.  The investigation is continuing.”

An MCA spokesperson said: “A joint investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Health and Safety Executive is currently ongoing. It would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”

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New ward extension opens at Werndale Hospital

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WERNDALE Hospital opens its £1millon ward extension, featuring a suite of new spacious patient en-suite rooms and additional light and airy ward space for new nurses’ stations, new technology and medical equipment, in pleasant and comfortable spaces. 

Werndale is part of Circle Health Group, the UK’s largest provider of private healthcare. The group is carrying out a £125 million redevelopment programme across its 50 hospitals in the UK.

Werndale has a strong history in the village of Bancyfelin, where is has been serving the local communities of Wales for over 32 years.

James Davies, Wales and Scarlets rugby player, from Bancyfelin, cut the ribbon to mark the official opening on Monday 1st August. His nickname “Cubby”, is reference to his brother’s nickname, “Fox”; this refers to the Fox & Hounds pub their parents ran in Bancyfelin, the village where they grew up. Staff and consultants were given the chance to view the new extension, with a small gathering to mark the occasion and celebrate all the hard work that has gone into this project over the last 12 months.

Jacky Jones, Executive Director of Werndale Hospital said: “The investment programme is an exciting opportunity to expand what we can offer to patients at Werndale. Our staff and consultants are delighted with this expansion which will allow us to meet the private healthcare needs of patients and families in Wales and will decrease waiting times which will positively impact the patient’s experience. Having the new patient rooms here increases our ward capacity by 20%, it is a great investment”.

Gaynor Llewellyn, Director of Clinical Services said: “At Werndale we are committed to continuous improvement of clinical facilities and services. We continually invest in the hospital so that we can offer our patients and consultants reassurance when they visit us for treatments”.

Werndale Hospital is seeing increased demand for its services across all specialities particularly orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology, and general surgery. Nearly 4,000 patients had surgery at Werndale Hospital, Bancyfelin during 2021 and the new investment will enable ward capacity to be increased by 25 per cent.

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Next week’s Pembrokeshire County Show promises to be an action-packed two-day event

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WALES’ largest county agricultural show, Pembrokeshire County Show, promises to be action-packed next week. The event, taking place on 17 and 18 August at Pembrokeshire County Showground in Haverfordwest, will have something for everyone.

Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society are pulling out all the stops to make the new style two-day event better than before with new attractions and a new showground layout will make the 2022 show one to remember.

Enjoy listening to the all-day entertainment from the music stage, tickle your tastebuds at the fabulous food court, marvel at the livestock classes, be wowed by the showjumping, explore the horticulture, arts and crafts area, shop til you drop in the NEW Country Market area, showcasing over 40 quality local and award winning product and craft stalls.

Mansel Raymond, Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society President said, “We are very excited about the prospect of seeing our wonderful members, competitors, trade stands, sponsors and community coming together once again next week. Whether you’re a Pembrokeshire local or visiting we’re sure you’ll have a fantastic day out. This year’s show is jam-packed with great attractions and events meaning so there’s something for everyone.”

Thousands of visitors are expected to see some of the best livestock, taste fabulous local food and drink, experience country life and enjoy a wealth of entertainment.

Every day, there will be live entertainment from 6am until 7pm from the Pure West Radio stage. Together with broadcasting live from the show both days there will live music, choirs, special guests, competitions, workouts, arts, dance and performances.

There truly will be something for everyone at next week’s show with over 300 trade stands to explore. Entertainment also includes: Sheep dog trials display, vintage demo and static displays, Classic Cars, Zip Wire, Little legs football, Funfair with promotional discount tickets with thanks to Andrew Holmes Funfairs, Pembrokeshire Food Court, Craft & Horticulture, eggs and pigeon show, cattle on the Wednesday, Children’s calf showing; Children’s equine ring, sheep and pigs showing on the Thursday, horses both days, Dog Agility and the Country Market.

There’s always an emphasis on great Welsh produce, celebrating the show’s ethos of ‘field to fork’ and ‘soil to spoon’. Visitors will be able to tickle their taste buds at the huge food court, sponsored by Castell Howell, which celebrates the very best local produce on offer.

In the Countryside Park there will be BASC Wales displays by gun dogs and retrievers; Canine displays by specialist search and detection dogs; live talks and demonstrations timetabled throughout the day by Old Park Apiaries, beekeeping/honey production/pollinator support. There will also be a chance to try your hand in the BASC Air Rifle target shooting range, learn about the British Bird of Prey Centre, White tailed Eagle project, watch Brendan Rocke’s chainsaw sculptures and carvings demonstrations and enjoy Body Canvas, Stilt walking & Balloon sculptures.

The Community Zone, supported by South Hook LNG, brings together a number of voluntary and community groups. Coordinated by Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services (PAVS) the marquee is an opportunity for organisations, who might not normally be able to have a presence at the show, to promote their activities in Pembrokeshire. From giving advice, supporting those in need or providing training and volunteering opportunities.

Getting around at an agricultural show can sometimes be difficult, however at the Pembrokeshire County Showground there is a good network of tarmac making conditions underfoot easier for visitors with limited mobility. Parking is available for Blue Badge holders and we have disabled toilets and Mobiloo at this year’s show. Mobility scooters and wheelchairs hire are available to hire from Advanced Mobility Solutions please visit the website for bookings: www.pembshow.org

To get to the Showground: for SatNav, use the following address: County Showground, Withybush, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, SA62 4BW. The show is signposted from the main A40 trunk roads. Please look for the ‘P’ signs for public parking.

Dogs are very welcome at the show provided they bring their responsible owners with them! Dog drinking bowls are available around the showground. Dogs must be kept on leads.

Tickets are available on the website: www.pembsshow.org and for up-to-date details of this year’s event follow Pembrokeshire County Show on facebook, twitter or Instagram.

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Pembrokeshire camping sites named among the best in UK

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BRITISH camping has boomed in the last two years, with 4.5m Brits going camping or caravanning for the first time since the start of the pandemic, according to Mintel. And new research has now revealed 10 of the best secret camping destinations Britain has to offer, with Abereiddy and Havefordwest in Pembrokeshire amongst the top locations.

To uncover the country’s hidden gems, tyre and vehicle services provider, ATS Euromaster, researched the top camping destinations social media doesn’t know about, by revealing the number of positive reviews on online camping sites with fewer than five Instagram tags.

These stunning sites won’t break the bank either, with prices starting at only £8 a night for two adults.

The highest reviewed UK locations that have flown under the social media radar are: 

 1. Wareham, Dorset

1. Trigon Farm

Wareham is a pretty riverside town, close to the South coast in Dorset, 8 miles from Poole. The thriving market town is situated where the rivers Frome and Piddle meet and offers lots to do.

Hidden gem: Trigon Farm is set in a rural field near Wareham, with views of Trigon Manor house and arable fields to the left and beyond. This is a great site for families, with great facilities. It’s also dog friendly.

Prices from: £17 per night, for a tent or trailer pitch.

2. Dorchester, Dorset

2. Dewflock Farm

A historic market town on the banks of the River Frome to the south of the Dorset Downs, Dorchester is a vibrant place ideal for sightseeing. Some of the UK’s best-preserved Roman ruins are situated moments away from the thriving high street.

Hidden gem: Dewflock Farm is a working farm where people can camp and glamp, just 5 minutes from Dorchester. It’s a great base for people to explore Dorset, including the lovely beaches nearby.

Prices from: £100 per night in a Shepherd’s Hut.

3. Winnats Pass, Peak District, Derbyshire

3. Newfold Farm

An impressive limestone gorge in the White Peak area of the Peak District, Winnats Pass is a perfect spot for camping. The limestone is full of fossils of sea creatures which lived here over 350 million years ago.

Hidden gem: Newfold Farm is a family-run campsite at the start of the Pennine Way. It’s great for hikers and cyclists. It’s also half a mile from a pub and railway station.

Prices from: £20 per night, tent pitch.

4. Truro, Cornwall

4. Callestick Camping

The only city in Cornwall, Truro is a foodie destination surrounded by beautiful gardens and rivers. The cathedral city offers a perfect blend of historic charm and modern retailers, while tranquil camping among pristine nature is never far away.

Hidden gem: Callestick Camping is a dog-friendly wild camping field with spectacular views over the Cornish countryside, and only 10 minutes’ drive from the beach.

Prices from: £17.50 per night, tent or trailer pitch

5. Abereiddy, Pembrokeshire

5. Eco Caerhys Wales

Abereiddy, a small hamlet in Wales, is a perfect place to get away from it all and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast.

Hidden gem: Eco Caerhys Camping in St Davids offers wild meadow camping at an organic farm on the Pembrokshire coastline. It’s a great place for active people, with surfing nearby.

Prices from: £30 per night, tent pitch

6. Dodd, Cumbria

6. Dodd Newlands

A fantastic place to get stunning views of Cumbria’s lovely Lake District, Dodd is just a few miles north of Keswick.

Hidden gem: Newlands Valley Campsite is close to Keswick and Derwentwater. It’s a great place for outdoorsy people, with mountain biking, boating and quad biking offered nearby.

Prices from: £23 per night, tent pitch.

7. St Austell, Cornwall

7. East Crinnis Cornwall

A striking curve of spectacular coastal scenery and an area rich in cultural heritage, St Austell is one of Cornwall’s biggest towns, boasting many gorgeous beaches.

Hidden gem: East Crinnis Camping in Heronbank is a working farm and wildlife haven half a mile from the Cornish coast with easy access to destinations like Fowey, Mevagissey and the Eden Project.

Prices from: £16 per night, tent pitch

8. Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire

8. Harefordwest three fields

Haverfordwest is the attractive and ancient county town of Pembrokeshire, steeped in history with a castle and museum, which used to be the prison governor’s house.

Hidden gem: The Three Fields Campsite is a spacious site with a private toilet, shower and firepit at each pitch, situated just 10 minutes from Haverfordwest.

Prices from: £26 per night, touring pitch

9. Skegness, Lincolnshire

9. Skegness Birchwood

Skegness is a seaside town in the East Lindsey District of Lincolnshire, offering lots of family-friendly attractions.

Hidden gem: In a countryside setting but only two miles from Skegness, Birchwood Fishing and Camping offers fishing on a large lake in the lovely Lincolnshire countryside.

Prices from: £8 per night, tent pitch

10. Chester, Cheshire

10. Kings Acre Chester

Arguably the richest city in Britain for archaeological and architectural treasures, Chester boasts the most complete city walls, the oldest racecourse and the largest Roman Amphitheatre in the UK.

Hidden gem: Kings Acre Glamping is deep in the Cheshire countryside, yet only 10 minutes’ drive from Chester. Barbecues are allowed, with firepits and professional pizza ovens available to hire.

Prices from: £25 per night, tent pitch

And for those looking to get away on a camping trip, experts at ATS Euromaster have compiled a list of five things to do to your car before setting off on a camping holiday:

  1. Check your tyre pressure and tread depth – make sure it is at the recommended depth. The legal limit is at least 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre.
  2. Make sure you have a spare tyre and that you know how to change it. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle of the English countryside with no phone signal and a flat tyre.
  3. Check your engine oil and vehicle coolant levels and fill up if needs be.
  4. Ensure that your battery is not going to run flat while you are on your trip. If your engine seems slow to turn over or your lights are flashing, it may be running low.
  5. Check your windscreen for cracks and ensure that wiper blades are functioning properly.
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