NINETEEN months of absolute hell.

That's how Basingstoke firefighter Simon Green describes his suspension from the Hampshire fire brigade for trying to organise a union meeting that never took place.

The ordeal for 40-year-old Mr Green began when he went to Basingstoke fire station on April 14, 1999, to help represent the rest of Red Watch after five colleagues had been suspended, accused of bullying and harrassing their senior officers.

But within days Mr Green - who was branch chairman of the Fire Brigade Union at Basingstoke - was told he too was suspended from work indefinitely because brigade bosses feared he may have undue involvement with witnesses.

Almost two years later the married father-of-two has finally found justice after an independent employment tribunal ruled he had been unfairly treated and prevented from carrying out his trade union duties by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Speaking exclusively to The Gazette, he said: "I feel like the past two years of my life have been stolen from me.

"It's been absolute torture, not just for me, but my family and friends who have felt a great strain.

"The first six months of my suspension were really quite traumatic.

"I was stopped from going to work and told I couldn't contact my friends or colleagues from the brigade.

"My whole life was turned upside down and I didn't know what to do.

"I knew I had done nothing wrong. Just like the other guys who went to the tribunal with me, I just wanted a fair hearing. All that was left for us was to stand up and be counted and prove our innocence.

"During my 20 years in the fire brigade I have been at some terrible fires and seen the most awful things. But nothing has affected me as badly as what I have experienced during the last two years.

"The lives of all three of us have been shattered but we kept each other going. There were times when we all wanted to give up - we'd had enough and felt like it was wasn't worth fighting anymore - but we stayed strong for each other and we had a lot of support from friends and other firefighters."

Mr Green was told his suspension was lifted and he could go back to work in November last year.

No actual investigation had been carried out into the allegations against him. The four charges - which were totally unrelated to his suspension and some of which dated back 10 years - were dropped.

Mr Green, who lives in Andover, said: "The brigade took such drastic action against me that people who knew me well even started to believe that maybe I had done something wrong.

"They kept me off work for 19 months and in that time they couldn't find anything to support their accusations so they tried to send me back to work as if nothing had happened.

"That's the lovely thing about independent vindication - now I feel that I can hold my head up high and start rebuilding my life."

While the future is brighter, Mr Green's ordeal is still not over. He is currently off work because of stress and does not know when he will return.