THE region’s deputy chief fire officer was handed a £250,000 payoff amid claims she suffered sexual discrimination, it has emerged.

Lucy Phillips, who left Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service in August, secured compensation after bosses agreed a confidential out-of-court settlement.

Mrs Phillips, aged 48, of Worcester, joined the service in 2003 but was overlooked for the top job of chief fire officer in April 2010 when it went to Mark Yates instead.

Sources told the Worcester News she lodged a claim of sexual discrimination following that decision, and her treatment at work afterwards.

Bosses then took legal advice, which recommended the fire authority members agree the payoff privately at a meeting in May or risk a larger award before an employment tribunal.

Part of the sum awarded to Mrs Phillips was towards her pension, which made up a majority of the £250,000, but the rest was because of her sexual discrimination complaint.

Her salary as deputy chief fire officer was £97,003.

One source, who did not want to be named, said: “The legal advice was very clear that it should be settled at around £250,000 out of court.

“The general feeling was that we were lucky to get away with £250,000 because if it went to court the pay-out could have been higher.”

Part of the agreement was that she officially retired on health grounds, and that the reasons behind the complaints would remain confidential.

The Fire Brigades Union yesterday said it was angry about the decision being made in a secret session.

Steve Gould, secretary of the Hereford and Worcester branch, said: “We raised questions about why all this happened behind closed doors because we believed the public should have the right to know.

“It should have been open and transparent.”

A spokesman from Hereford and Worcester Fire Service said: “The details of her retirement were approved by the elected members of the fire authority in advance.

“Because of the personal nature of the matter, those details remain confidential and we are therefore unable to comment on any speculation that may surround them.”

It is the second time in recent years fire chiefs have been embroiled in controversy over payments to a senior worker.

Back in May 2010 Paul Hayden retired as chief officer after being wrongly advised he didn’t need permission and would get a bumper tax-free pension.

The decision ended up costing the taxpayer £320, 000 after the deal was challenged by the Fire Brigades Union and Mr Hayden claimed back his tax liabilities.

There is no standard retirement age for fire service employees, but anyone aged 50 or over with 25 years’ service can apply to leave early, and the most common age is 55.

Mrs Phillips has been replaced by Richard Lawrence.