A report has found that there is "an underlying culture of misogyny and sexism" in Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service.

It stated that “women have been subject to significant trauma at the hands of male colleagues.”

The independent report was commissioned by Chief Fire Officer Ben Ansell in January after allegations made in the media by whistle-blowers from within the service.

From speaking to around 200 current and former members of staff, the review, which was released on Tuesday, found evidence of gaslighting, coercive and controlling behaviours towards female staff, sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.

Further examples of reported behaviour included male use of female toilets, sexist and misogynist jokes, and allegations of pornographic images being shared between colleagues.

According to the findings, these actions often went unchallenged by the service.

It said: “A common theme from the interviews was the perception that senior managers were aware of the behaviour of specific individuals, but no one did anything about it, and, in some cases, interviewees spoke about perpetrators being protected.”

It was suggested that a culture of ‘banter’ and ‘canteen culture’ was at play.

“There was a perception of a ‘boys club’ culture, with Freemasons being suggested as the reason for some cases not being progressed through the disciplinary process,” the report states.

31.8 per cent of people interviewed for the report said that they are aware of situations where concerns have been raised but have not been investigated.

The report also adds: “When asked if there had been occasions when you have felt uncomfortable about the behaviours of colleagues directed towards you or other colleagues, two-thirds of the females who answered this question replied ‘Yes’, and a similar proportion of males, at 63 per cent.”

Interviewees gave disturbing testimonials of their experiences.

“My watch is great but there are watches I really don’t want to work with," one said. "I feel so strongly about this I don’t work overtime in case I have to work on a different watch. I don’t want to work with some men who I regard as being difficult.”

Another added: “There are some watches that women wouldn’t go to; if a woman finds a good watch and station manager then that’s where they tend to stay and don’t go for promotion.”

A third said: “I left a WhatsApp group because I wasn’t comfortable with what was being said.”

Whilst a fourth added: “I have had to put up with numerous discriminatory remarks about my ethnicity.”

Another interviewee spoke about an incident where a colleague was offered money to stir a female colleague’s tea with his genitals.

The report noted that “it had deliberately not gone into significant detail regarding some of the worst cases it has heard”.

In an open letter to the independent review team leader Alex Johnson, chief fire officer Ben Ansell apologised and said he found reading some of the experiences ‘uncomfortable’.

He wrote: “Although we have much in place, I can see that we have not always got things right and this must and will change. There is no place for inappropriate behaviour in our organisation and I am fully committed to driving our culture forward positively.

“We have carefully reflected upon and reviewed the report, and we welcome the recommendations made by your team. I am pleased to say that there are a number of arrangements in place and actions already underway, and we must now ensure that these are fully embedded.”

Councillor Bob Jones, Vice-Chair of the Fire Authority, declined to comment when questioned at a Wiltshire Council meeting by the Local Democracy Reporter, as he had “not yet had time to read the report”.