Capel fire officer remains after contentious motion pulled

Ailish DelaneyBunbury Herald
Capel Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members Ian Wood, Trevor James and David Hutchins were among the volunteers and community members at Wednesday's silent protest.
Camera IconCapel Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members Ian Wood, Trevor James and David Hutchins were among the volunteers and community members at Wednesday's silent protest. Credit: Ailish Delaney / South Western Times/Ailish Delaney

More than 100 volunteer firefighters and community members stood outside Capel Shire Council chambers on Wednesday to protest a motion to remove the deputy chief fire control officer.

Shire president Michael Southwell withdrew the contentious motion at the start of the meeting, prompting cheers from the gallery and those outside. He also announced he would not contest the next election, citing online bullying and “cancel culture” as his reasons.

The drama surrounding the motion stems from an inquiry into the October North Boyanup bushfire during which a volunteer was injured.

Cr Southwell alleges that Cr Murray Scott refused to take part in the inquiry, however, Cr Scott has said he did not refuse but was not officially contacted.

Residents circulated a petition which gained more than 600 signatures in the days before the meeting as a show of support.

Bushfire Volunteers executive officer Darren Brown said he had never seen a community uprising in such a situation.

It shows the strength of the feeling and the strength of the community.

Darren Brown

He said the situation had caused a division and urged council to contribute to a culture change going forward.

Cr Southwell said the motion was about accountability, but withdrew it to help solve the divide.

“I hope it’ll also throw some oil on troubled waters that people know I won’t be standing again,” he said.

Cr Southwell said he had been “cancelled” by the mob and this was part of his reason for stepping down in October.

“There’s about three or four sites in the shire ... and there are people that go on there all day and all evening ... and do nothing except attack me personally,” he said.

“I understand that’s part of the game, but when I saw it started having an effect on my family, I knew it was time to get out.”

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