London Fire Brigade ‘institutionally misogynist and racist’, independent review finds

The report found the brigade has a ‘toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse’

Thomas Kingsley
Friday 25 November 2022 21:36 GMT
London Fire Brigade practice disaster response

The London Fire Brigade is “institutionally misogynist and racist”, an independent review has found.

The review’s author, Nazir Afzal OBE, said a “toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse” was found in the brigade in addition to “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women”.

He said they were more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted and largely unrepresented at senior levels, and also frequently racially abused.

Mr Afzal said the report found failings in the brigade's processes which meant women, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and members of the LGBT+ community were more likely to experience poor treatment and do less well in their careers.

London fire commissioner Andy Roe said: “Today is a very sobering day. There is no place for discrimination, harassment and bullying in the brigade and from today it will be completely clear to all staff what behaviour isn't acceptable and what the consequences will be.

“I am deeply sorry for the harm that has been caused. I will be fully accountable for improving our culture.”

The report found that in some watches there appeared to be a deep resistance to women being firefighters, and senior figures explained that the approach of male colleagues was to “treat you badly and hope to get rid of you”.

Mr Afzal said he hoped the review would be a “turning point” so that all firefighters could enjoy dignity at work and not have to run a gauntlet of abuse from colleagues.

A Black firefighter told the review he found a noose in his locker (PA Wire)

“The actions of some firefighters are bringing a great institution into disrepute and these people do not belong in modern public services. When I sit before women explaining that they fear for their lives when they go to dangerous incidents because they have to depend on their colleagues, and it’s impossible to do this when the same colleagues treat them like dirt, then I despair,” he said.

Susan Hall AM, leader of the Greater London Authority Conservatives, said she was “shocked and saddened” by the findings of the report.

“These horrific cases of misogyny, racism and bullying are completely unacceptable and it is deeply concerning how widespread and severe this behaviour has been,” Ms Hall said.

Mr Afzal’s review, completed with a team of six experts, was undertaken over the last 12 months as they visited stations, gathered submissions and interviewed staff at all levels. The report is based on the experiences of more than 2,000 members of staff.

Jaden Francois-Esprit died at his home in Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, east London, in late August 2020 (PA)

The report was commissioned after the death of mixed race firefighter Jaden Francois-Esprit, who was allegedly bullied.

His family were concerned that he had been bullied because of his race, the report said.

“Jaden’s position was not unique. We have spoken to others that are equally isolated and harbouring suicidal thoughts,” Mr Afzal said. “It’s wholly unacceptable that public servants are being stripped of their dignity and this review must be the starting point to end this toxic culture and start building a more supportive environment that values all staff. That would be a fitting legacy for Jaden.”

One female firefighter told the review that there is a “banter” culture that allows female firefighters to become the target of jokes.

“There will be some people who don’t understand the nature of bullying in this job.

“Your life depends on your colleagues. You have to rely on them to get out safely and how can you do that when you know they think so little of you and treat you like dirt?” she said.

A review has found London Fire Brigade to be institutionally misogynist and racist (PA Wire)

The review says: “We spoke to a Black firefighter who had a noose put above his locker.

“We also spoke to a Muslim who was constantly bullied about his religion and had bacon and sausages put in his coat pockets and a terrorist hotline sign posted on his locker.”

The report also found that racial slurs were used commonly against ethnic minority staff, with one firefighter being diagnosed with PTSD as a result.

The review contains 23 recommendations, including the introduction of body-worn video by firefighters, a historic review of complaints about racism, misogyny and bullying over the past five years, and secure facilities for all women in stations.

One firefighter said he was diagnosed with PTSD due to incessant bullying and racial slurs used against him (PA)

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the review should be a “watershed moment” for the London fire brigade and said he supported Mr Roe in setting it up.

“The fire commissioner knows he has my full support in making the significant and necessary changes to root out all those found to be responsible for sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, bullying or harassment – and to support members of staff to speak out,” said Mr Khan.

“Some of that work has already started with a new independent team investigating complaints and a pledge to scrutinise firefighter interactions with the public through body-worn video. But more must be done and at pace.”

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