New fire chief wants to 'move on' from sexism row

Nikki Watson with fair hair sitting at a desk with a computer
Nikki Watson has started work as Northamptonshire's chief fire officer [Steve Hubbard/BBC]

A new chief fire officer has said she wants to move on from the sexism row that has overshadowed her appointment to the role.

Nikki Watson was announced as Northamptonshire's new fire chief in February and assumed the role this month.

The Conservative police, fire and crime commissioner Stephen Mold made a misogynistic comment about her at a meeting with firefighters and did not stand for re-election.

Ms Watson said she would not tolerate the use of such language in the fire service.

When she was appointed by Mr Mold, Ms Watson was under investigation by Avon and Somerset Police in relation to allegations made about her time as the force's assistant chief constable.

Mr Mold used a misogynistic term when asked at a meeting with firefighters what would happen if the inquiry did not find in her favour.

The force has since concluded she had no case to answer, but the damage was done as far as Mr Mold was concerned, and he decided not to stand in the election for his post earlier this month.

Speaking to BBC Radio Northampton, Ms Watson said Mr Mold "did ring me personally and he apologised".

She added: "As a leader of an organisation, that is not the sort of language that I would tolerate in the organisation and I'm ready that we move on now."

Nikki Watson with fair hair tied back wearing a police uniform
Nikki Watson was exonerated in the inquiry relating to her time with Avon and Somerset Police [BBC]

The investigation into Ms Watson's conduct by Avon and Somerset police related to "attendance at a policing conference in 2023 and whether proper policies and procedures were followed".

She described the inquiry as "an uncomfortable time" and said: "It certainly delayed my starting here but I am delighted that the outcome was 'no case to answer' and I was totally exonerated.

"It wasn't pleasant but it's given me first hand experience and insight into the misconduct process."

Meeting with several people sitting at tables
Nikki Watson had to appear before a police, fire and crime panel to have her appointment confirmed [BBC]

Despite being the fifth fire chief in 18 months and the controversy surrounding her appointment, Ms Watson said staff she had met so far were "judging me on what they see and what they hear when they meet me".

"Long may that continue and I will continue to be professional and engage with everybody that I meet."

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