Young black firefighter who took his own life was not being bullied, colleagues tell inquest

Jaden Francois-Esprit’s family claim he was a victim of racial discrimination

Joe Middleton
Monday 15 February 2021 17:02
Jaden Francois-Esprit died at his home in Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, east London, in late August 2020
Jaden Francois-Esprit died at his home in Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, east London, in late August 2020

A 21-year-old junior firefighter who took his own life was “bored” and “frustrated” in his job but his colleagues did not think he was being bullied, an inquest has heard.

Jaden Francois-Esprit died at his home in Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, east London, in late August 2020 - just three weeks after his 21st birthday. The cause of his death was recorded as suspension.

He was training to be a firefighter at Wembley station but his family feared he was being bullied due to his race and being teased for eating Caribbean food, it was said.

His mother Linda Francois previously told the inquest her son was singled out for being young and “the only person of colour” at the station.

The coroner heard that Mr Francois-Espirit had made more than a dozen transfer requests to different stations but knew they were unlikely to be granted until he had completed his workbook - a process likely to have taken eight months.

A friend who trained with the 21-year-old before being posted to a different station told the hearing Mr Francois-Esprit had asked him about his training and the procedures where he worked.

Gabriel Ivarsson told King’s Cross Coroner’s Court in a statement: “He felt he was being teased about his food and about his culture and background.”

Mr Ivarsson said his friend was concerned that his monthly development meetings were not taking place, and he was not being given the support he needed to complete his development book.

He said Mr Francois-Esprit also felt he was being given too much to do without support, such as undertaking the inventory check for five fire engines alone on every shift.

But Lewis Gunn, a lead firefighter at Wembley, said: “I knew he didn’t feel like we were busy enough, I think that’s a realisation that every firefighter comes to after going through training.”

He said he was unaware that Mr Francois-Esprit had reported finding him hard to approach, adding: “I felt that the interactions we had were genuinely quite pleasant.”

Mr Gunn said he was also unaware that Mr Francois-Esprit struggled with dyslexia, but said he had noticed he had become more withdrawn in the months before he died.

He said he had had a word with him when Mr Francois-Esprit had snapped “What now?” after he asked him to help clean the station mess.

“I asked him if he was happy in the job and if he was happy at the station - he didn’t seem that happy,” Mr Gunn said.

Sean Nunkoosing, a colleague of Mr Francois-Esprit, also knew he was frustrated in the job but said he had never confided in him about being bullied.

“He was quite a shy character, but when he got to know someone he would warm up to them,” Mr Nunkoosing said.

“I got to know him and it was obvious he had a really good sense of humour. He was a polite young man, personable - just a really nice person.”

He added: “He never said he was unhappy at work - he used the word ‘bored’. I could infer from our conversation that he wasn’t as happy as he might have been in another job.”

Mr Nunkoosing went on: “I wouldn’t say he was being bullied - I would say that’s too strong a word to describe his time at Wembley, but that’s only my opinion.

“Probably everyone who has ever been in a workplace probably feels like they’ve been singled out in some way or another and feels like they could have been dealt with a bit more positively.”

Mr Nunkoosing said Mr Francois-Esprit had continued applying to the London Ambulance Service because it was a busier job, but feared he would not pass the exams.

He said he had noticed people teasing the young firefighter, but had heard him called “Shaky” for spilling mugs of tea while serving them to colleagues.

The inquest previously heard that Wembley Green Watch had about 22 members at the time and Mr Francois-Esprit was the youngest by about seven years.

The inquest continues.

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Additional reporting by agencies