The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has been found to be “institutionally misogynistic and racist” by an independent review. The 88-page damning report, which was released on Saturday (November 26), reveals the “toxic culture” in the country’s largest fire service as details of “stomach turning” accounts from victims are made public.
A female firefighter is said to be made fun of for her weight and male colleagues would taunt her by imitating the sound of a truck reversing. Another female firefighter suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when her helmet was filled with urine and the moment she found herself zipped inside a body bag as part of a practical joke.
Other details include a black employee finding a noose above his locker, while a Muslim firefighter had a terrorism hotline sticker placed near his belongings. When the man returned from the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, colleagues asked how his “al-Qaeda training” had gone.
A Muslim staff member said he was “routinely bullied” because of his faith, with bacon and sausages put in his coat. Another woman wrote that she had to tell her female friends not to let male firefighters in the house because they would look for underwear and sex toys. Semen was also said to have been smeared on women’s tunics at some stations.
These accounts are part of the report, titled the Independent Cultural Review of London Fire Brigade. It was obtained by The Sunday Times and was commissioned following the death of Jaden Francois-Esprit, a trainee ay Wembley fire station who took his own life at the age of 21 in August 2020.
During an inquest that took place last year, it was heard that Francois-Esprit believed he was being bullied at work because of his ethnicity, claiming that he was teased about the Carribean food he brought for lunch. He had made 16 requests to be transferred to another station.
‘Stomach turning’ stories
The independent review was conducted by Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang case, who described the stories as “stomach turning.” Although he emphasised that the review is rooted “in deep respect for the work of LFB staff”, he concluded that the brigade was “institutionally misogynist and racist.”
He said: "My review found evidence that supports a finding that LFB is institutionally misogynist and racist. We found dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and the barriers faced by people of colour spoke for themselves.
"Not only were they more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted and largely unrepresented at senior levels, but they were also frequently the target of racist abuse. We also saw examples of how this was driving some people of colour out of the brigade and there was evidence that talented people, committed to public service, were being lost as a result."
Afzal and his team conducted 250 interviews with former and current staff as well as a dozen focus groups. More than 100 written submissions were received and surveys completed by 1,672 employees.
LFB commissioner offers apology
In a statement released last night (November 25), LFB said it was taking immediate action after the recommendations made in the report. LFB 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.
Roe said he would be “fully accountable for improving our culture” and said he would accept all of the recommendations in the review.
LFB’s review came just over a month after Metropolitan Police was found it had failed to sack sex offenders, racists and misogynists from its force. An independent review by Baroness Casey of Blackstock said that officers had got away with criminal behaviour and that repeated incidents of sexual misconduct were not treated as serious transgressions.