RACIST social media comments directed at the county’s fire service in response to taster days targeted at under-represented groups were so serious they were referred to the police, it has been revealed.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service faced criticism earlier in the summer for advertising a series of taster sessions for women, the LGBTQ+ community and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, which have been identified as groups which are under-represented within the service, by Keri Trigg

The service made clear that the sessions were not recruitment days and highlighted that there were numerous other taster events open to all members of the public, but still faced a social media backlash and a string of direct complaints, one of which was taken up by a county MP and referred to the Home Office.

The scale of the fallout has now been highlighted in a report to the service’s governing body ahead of a meeting next week.

The report, by chief fire officer Rod Hammerton and assistant chief fire officer Simon Hardiman, says: “Approximately two weeks before the first taster day, a scheduled release of adverts took place via social media channels including Facebook and Twitter.

“The purpose of the adverts was to encourage individuals from under-represented groups to contact the service and book a place on one of the sessions.

“Whilst the uptake from individuals interested in attending taster days was positive, resulting in most sessions being fully subscribed and reserve lists being created, the adverts also generated a significant number of negative comments regarding the service approach.

“The content of the negative comments ranged from dissatisfaction from members of the public who linked positive action to recruiting from specific groups of people, through to comments that could be viewed as inciting racial hatred.

“Any communications of this nature were shared with colleagues within West Mercia Police for further investigation.

“Further comments from members of the public following the release of the targeted adverts have been received into service via phone calls and emails that have been responded to with a standard statement explaining the purpose of positive action as outlined within this report.

“One complaint was sent both to the service and to the individual’s local MP, which was then escalated to the Home Office.

“It is worth of note that the Home Office response was understanding and supportive of the service’s endeavours to raise awareness in under-represented groups.”

The report says five per cent of the service’s staff are from BAME groups, six per cent are women and just 0.5 per cent identify as LGBTQ+.

Targeted BAME and women-only taster sessions have been held previously but this was the first year in which dedicated sessions were organised for the LGBTQ+ community.

The report says the service takes positive action to support those who may be at a disadvantage due to protected characteristics, as identified by the Equality Act 2010. These include disability, sex, sexuality, gender reassignment, race and religion.

It does not however employ positive discrimination, which is to give people from these groups preferential treatment, for example in recruitment or promotion, or set ‘quotas’.

As a result of the outcry in response to the targeted taster sessions, the service has established a new recruitment steering group.

It will also consider publishing education material ahead of future adverts for targeted taster days.

The report says: “A full debrief was conducted with all key stakeholders, to capture individuals’ thoughts, feelings and views on what went well, what did not go well and what can be done differently in the future.

“This learning has been used to identify alternative methods of engaging with individuals from under-represented groups.

“It is apparent that there remains a lack of understanding regarding positive action and people’s perceptions of how positive action is used.

“It is fair to say that most of the negative comments were borne out of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of why positive action is required.”

The report will be considered by Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority’s strategy and resources committee at a meeting on Thursday, September 17.