Former senior cop appointed as Northamptonshire fire chief, pending outcome of police watchdog investigation

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If the investigation is “satisfactory” and Nikki Watson is appointed, she will be the fourth serving chief fire officer the county has seen in the last 12 months

The Office of the Northamptonshire Police Fire and Crime Commissioner has confirmed the appointment of a new fire chief for the county, subject to the completion of a due diligence check and the completion of her ongoing conduct investigation by the police watchdog.

The police fire and crime panel discussed the suitability of the preferred candidate, Nikki Watson, at a meeting earlier this week (Tuesday, February 20). After entering a private session to discuss their findings, the panel has now recommended that Ms Watson be appointed Chief Fire Officer for Northamptonshire, pending the conclusion of the investigation.

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The former Deputy Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police is currently facing an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation. The matter is surrounding her attendance at a policing conference in 2023 and whether proper procedures were followed.

The rescheduled panel hearing for Ms Nikki Watson took place on February 20.The rescheduled panel hearing for Ms Nikki Watson took place on February 20.
The rescheduled panel hearing for Ms Nikki Watson took place on February 20.

According to the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) Stephen Mold she was made aware of the conduct investigation after being selected as the candidate for appointment. Despite the lingering enquiry, Ms Watson has been accepted by the panel, which is made up of twelve members across West and North Northamptonshire.

The Commissioner had stated at the confirmation hearing that he would not appoint Ms Watson until the investigation had been resolved “successfully”. He said at the meeting that Ms Watson was “confident” that the matter is “without substance and hopes it will be rapidly resolved”.

If the investigation is “satisfactory” and Ms Watson is appointed, she will be the fourth serving chief fire officer the county has seen in the last 12 months. This follows the controversial appointment of interim fire chief Nicci Marzec after Mark Jones left the position in July 2023, saying that he had to concentrate on recovering from injuries.

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Ms Marzec stepped down after just ten days due to scrutiny surrounding her friendship with the PFCC and a lack of experience in the field causing uproar within the fire service. Simon Tulhill has since stepped up as the acting fire chief after her dismissal, however his temporary role will also come to an end provided Ms Watson’s appointment goes ahead as planned.

Adam Taylor, the Fire Brigades Union executive council member for the East Midlands, said that Northamptonshire was being “failed” by members of the panel.

“Councillors received a staggering 2,000 emails calling for the veto of this appointment. It’s clear that the public stands with firefighters in expecting accountability and integrity. We await the outcome of the ongoing IOPC investigation, and the Fire Brigades Union will continue to demand better,” he added.

The panel would have needed two-thirds of its members in support to successfully veto the appointment. Mr Mold has since formally accepted the panel’s recommendation, echoing his “commitment” to ensuring all outstanding due diligence checks relating to the appointment are completed and the conclusion of the IOPC investigation is satisfactory.