THE stepfather of a woman who died after falling down a mine shaft has condemned the appointment of the fire chief he blames for her death to manage firefighter recruits.
Paul Stewart, who has been made area manager for Scottish Fire and Rescue’s new £45 million training college in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, was criticised by a sheriff three years ago after he admitted stopping fire fighters from going into an underground pit to rescue Alison Hume.
It is absolutely shattering to watch this coward rising through the ranks, seven years after Alison’s death.Hugh Cowan
Ms Hume, a 44-year-old lawyer and mother of two girls, had fallen down the mine shaft near her home in Galston, Ayrshire, in July 2008.
When Mr Stewart arrived on the scene, initially as a media officer, he took control of the operation and halted firemen preparing to go down to get her.
In a subsequent investigation, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of Fire and Rescue Authorities, Steven Torrie, said the seven hours Ms Hume spent down the shaft “greatly decreased her chances of survival”.
Yesterday Ms Hume’s stepfather, Hugh Cowan, reacted angrily to the news that Mr Stewart had been given the £55,000-a-year training role.
Mr Cowan, 72, of Ayr, said: “It is an absolute disgrace. If he had not stopped firefighters mounting a rescue, Alison would still be here today.
“It was not her injuries that killed her. It was the length of time she spent down that hole.
“It is absolutely shattering to watch this coward rising through the ranks, seven years after Alison’s death.
“How can he possibly train new firefighters when he couldn’t do the job himself?”
A Fatal Accident Inquiry concluded in 2012 that Ms Hume would have survived the fall if she had been brought up sooner.
This is the second high-profile position awarded to Mr Stewart since he was severely criticised by the sheriff conducting Ms Hume’s inquiry.
Last year, it was revealed that he had been given a senior role in fire prevention at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Until now, he has been acting as a temporary area manager. His salary in his new permanent training post will be £50,658, rising to £55,568 within a year, once he proves himself “competent” in the post.
He will be responsible, along with a number of other senior officers, for managing the training of new recruits as well as existing fire fighters.
The decision to give him the plum role is said to have infuriated rank-and-file firefighters.
Sheriff Desmond Leslie singled out Group Commander Stewart and colleague Billy Thomson for particular criticism following the FAI into Ms Hume’s death.
Sheriff Leslie said: “I found the evidence of Group Commander Paul Stewart, and Group Commander William Thomson, to be focussed on self justification for the action or non-action taken by them.
“I found their evidence to be bullish, if not arrogant, in their determination to justify the subservience of the need to carry out a rescue to the need to fulfil to the letter Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service Brigade policy.”
Next week, Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley MSP Willie Coffey will meet the Scottish Government’s minister for community safety and legal affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, to pass on Mr Cowan’s request for a public inquiry into the affair.
Scottish Fire and Rescue declined to comment yesterday.