FIRE service chiefs have been applauded for making a u-turn on their decision to ban the Black Country flag.

West Midlands Fire Service sparked a furore when proud Black Country residents learned staff had been asked not to fly the Black Country flag at fire stations over concerns about whether its design, featuring a chain, could be considered racist and offensive given the chain-making industry’s links to slavery.

Dudley North MP Marco Longhi angrily spoke out about the decision - saying it was "a great shame bosses seem to have no understanding of what it represents and what it means to the people of the Black Country".

While organiser of the Black Country Festival, Steve Edwards, urged fire chiefs to take time to learn about the Black Country and its history and to understand the flag, designed by then schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard from Stourbridge, was inspired by Elihu Burritt’s famous description of the area “black by day and red by night”, with the chain across the centre representing the region's chain-making industry and symbolising the linking of communities.

However, after taking the time to "form a fully rounded view of the flag’s chain imagery and questions it raises in the context of slavery" fire service bosses have now pledged their support for the flag.

Phil Loach, chief fire officer of West Midlands Fire Service, and Councillor Greg Brackenridge, chairman of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, said in a joint statement: "We have now given detailed consideration to the issues raised, gathering views and information from within the service and a range of external sources.

"WMFS and WMFRA will support the continued use of the flag throughout celebrations of the Black Country’s rich heritage, in which many of staff and our communities have a clear and unquestionable pride."

They reiterated their support for the global Black Lives Matter movement and said "for some people the flag's chain imagery is a reminder of links between Black Country industry and slavery" but they admitted: "It has never been in question that the flag’s design – created by Gracie Sheppard when she was a schoolgirl – was honestly conceived as a celebration of all that is positive about the Black Country’s heritage. Many people, predominantly from the area, have clear pride in the emblem."

Black Country Festival organiser Mr Edwards said: "I accept they put the flying of the flag on hold so they could better understand what it represented. We should all take the time to research and better understand Black Country history and the extreme hardship that working class Black Country people went through during the industrial revolution.

"The Black Country flag is representation of those working class people who went on to change the world.

"We celebrate their hard work and their fight. They're the people who make us proud and our flag represents them, along with all the other working class people who were forced to work for starvation wages in hope they would survive another day or at least their children would.

"I applaud West Midlands Fire Service for exploring our history, educating themselves and making the decision to fly the Black Country flag.

"The Black Country has an amazing history and we should not be afraid to explore it."

Dudley North MP, Marco Longhi, said he was "delighted" the fire service had reversed its decision and he added: "The Black Country flag should never have been withdrawn from Fire Stations.

“I had recently received correspondence from the fire service following my objections, and while it didn’t confirm a position it was positive - reading between the lines. 

“There are important lessons to be learned from this episode but what I do know is that rank and file fire officers and Black Country people will feel very happy with this decision."