With reference to the article by Emma Partridge, that appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 5th October 2018, titled Firey’s Charge Extinguished.
The article stated that… Police never saw it, no one was hurt, but it still took two years and $74,000 for a Rural Fire Service volunteer to overturn a conviction for driving dangerously during a hazard reduction burn.
VFFA President, Mick Holton talks to Shoalhaven CBF about this terrible situation.
This situation was so unbelievable that others who were not privy to the full transcript were judging Oliver as being guilty, saying things like “he must be guilty, how else could it have gone on for so long”.
But, this is a case of bullying and harassment at a local level that quickly got out of control. It became a very ugly and costly, fuelled by coverups, deceit and atrocious behaviour by representatives of the Rural Fire Service right to the top.
It is most disturbing that Oliver (we avoid using his surname repeatedly because the poor fellow has had to endure enough unpleasantness and unwanted exposure).
Oliver was abandoned by the NSW Rural Fire Service with not even a phone call to check on his welfare throughout this terrible ordeal. He now faces expenses of well over $100,000.
The NSW RFS Commissioner has stood by and allowed this situation to develop when it should have been sorted out early. Mr Sheppard (an Inspector for the RFS) admitted to the Cottage Point community that he could have handled the situation better.
Here is a quick snap shot of the events on that day:
- Hazard Reduction on Thurs 20th Nov 2016
- Oliver is a Deputy Captain
- He was on route to his station to help
- There is one road in and out
- He was required to enter the fire ground in his private vehicle once clearly identifying himself to traffic controllers who had closed the road to the public
- He arrived at the fire station
- He was formally asked by the OIC of the Hazard Reduction, Inspector Sheppard to stand down and wait for Police
- Why? He asked
- The RFS Inspector said a complaint has been made against Oliver and Police to are investigate (that’s all that was said)
- A Highway Patrol Officer finally arrived and interviewed Oliver in private (no one else there to support him)
- No charges or arrests were made
- The Police officer spoke with other RFS staff at station and left
- After the Police Officer left, Inspector Sheppard held a meeting with Oliver, with his Captain in attendance
- He notified Oliver that a complaint against him had been made by another RFS member, alleging Oliver had drove past another RFS member traveling somewhere between 70 to 80km/h
- This was the first time Oliver had been told what he had allegedly done
- Almost 4 months of silence from both NSW Police and the RFS
- Oliver was then charged by Police with Dangerous Driving to appear in Local Court in May 2017
- Then came a lengthy 4-day Local court hearing
- Oliver was found guilty at that hearing
- Oliver appealed and on 3rd Oct 2018, District Court Judge Paul Conlan quashed ALL charges against Oliver
- Oliver was completely exonerated
- Oliver had applied twice for ex-gratia assistance from the RFS
- One was rejected, and the second request did not get a reply
- After Oliver first applied for ex gratia assistance, the RFS suspended his RFS membership (he had only been charged at this stage, not attended local court) The RFS stating the reason for the suspension was that he was found guilty of a criminal charge
- After reviewing the RFS’s own Standard Operation Procedures for RFS Volunteer’s, Oliver’s solicitor successfully appealed his suspension and was re-inducted as a RFS volunteer
- At no stage since October 2016 Hazard Reduction alleged (over a 2-year period), has anyone from the NSW Rural Fire Service Head Office or even locally at Northern Beaches RFS District been in contact with Oliver to check on his wellbeing
- To date, Oliver has had zero support from the RFS
- He does, however have legal bills of over $100,000