FIRE chiefs are heading to London today to try to convince a Court of Appeal judge that four sacked Hampshire firefighters should not be allowed back to work.

It is the brigade's last-gasp attempt to end a three-year battle to see four men ousted for good over bullying and harassment claims.

The long-running feud has already swallowed an estimated £2m of taxpayers' cash.

However, despite damning rulings from Secretary of State John Prescott and a judicial review, Hampshire fire bosses have insisted on pressing on with the bid to sack Steve Dunbar, Barry Kearley, Richard Thoroughgood and Bernie Ross.

Union chiefs have called on the brigade to drop the costly campaign, which is racking up huge lawyers' fees. Hampshire MPs and other influential figures have even called for an overhaul of top-level management.

Bosses at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Authority refuse their reasons for continuing the fight because they say that legal matters are still pending.

Authority chairman Michael Cartwright said in a letter to the firefighters that they decided to press on with the case following advice from a "leading counsel".

Mr Dunbar, 45, who now runs a window cleaning business near Basingstoke, is confident today's final meeting will see an end to the row.

"I will be travelling up to London to hear what they have to say. We knew the brigade would take this chance to go to a final appeal, the end of the road, but there's very little chance of them winning," he said.

A fire brigade lawyer will present the case to a top employment judge at the Court of Appeal in person. The decision should be made in the next few months.