HAMPSHIRE Fire Service unfairly robbed three firemen of their union rights, a tribunal decided.

Southampton firefighter Richard Carrington and two colleagues emerged victorious after the employment tribunal found they were prevented from carrying out their trade union duties.

The three men - all active members of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) - took the service to the tribunal because they felt they were penalised for carrying out their duties after five firemen from Basingstoke were suspended in connection with bullying allegations in April 1999.

Mr Carrington, who was based at Hightown Fire Station in Woolston, Simon Green from Basingstoke, and Steve Ash - chairman of the FBU - were prevented by the service from taking part in the investigation into the suspension of the five firemen. But a disciplinary investigation found there was little evidence to support any allegation against them, and the case was dropped in December 1999.

At the tribunal in Southampton, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service bosses claimed their action against the three was justified because of the risk they could apply pressure and harass and intimidate witnesses. But tribunal chairman Raymond Wicky said that after hearing all the evidence, the tribunal panel believed the aim of the fire service was to stop the men carrying out their trade union activities.

Afterwards, Mr Carrington said: "I am both happy and relieved."

Hampshire Fire Service said it was disappointed with the outcome of the tribunal.