London Fire Brigade ‘institutionally racist and misogynist’, says damning report

London Fire Brigade - Jamie Lorriman for The Telegraph
London Fire Brigade - Jamie Lorriman for The Telegraph

The London Fire Brigade is “institutionally misogynist and racist”, according to a damning report.

The independent review was established by the commissioner of the service after Jaden Francois-Esprit, a 21-year-old trainee firefighter, took his own life in Aug 2020.

Nazir Afzal, the author of the review, said that he heard “accounts of shockingly poor behaviour and painful experiences over many years”.

The lawyer and his team heard the experiences of more than 2,000 current and former staff and the public, including members of the Grenfell community.

The review found a catalogue of “abhorrent experiences” including a black firefighter who had a noose put by his locker, and a woman who received a video of a colleague exposing himself.

Andy Roe, the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, described the findings of the report as “sobering”.

He said: “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 and I fully accept all of the 23 recommendations.”

Nazir Afzal, lawyer, London Fire Brigade - Sandpaper Films/Grabs
Nazir Afzal, lawyer, London Fire Brigade - Sandpaper Films/Grabs

The report found there were multiple cases of bullying “and the targeting of ethnic minorities and women” with some complaints not investigated.

The team behind the report heard stories of women being groped in training exercises and having to run a daily gauntlet of sexist abuse, frequently euphemised as “banter”.

The review also referred to a Muslim firefighter, bullied because of his faith, who had bacon put in his sandwich by his colleagues.

A female firefighter told the review that the threshold for bullying is so high “you would have to gouge someone’s eyes out to get sacked”, adding: “Everything else is seen as banter.”

She said that she told her female friends not to let male firefighters into their homes to check smoke alarms because she said they go through women’s drawers looking for underwear and sex toys.

Women were ‘sexually taunted’

Women were allegedly “sexually taunted”, including one who received video calls from a man exposing his genitalia.

In response to the review, the brigade said it was making “immediate changes to provide increased protection for its staff”.

The changes will see anyone accused of discrimination, harassment and bullying suspended following a risk assessment.

They will then be investigated and dismissed if the accusation is upheld.

It is also introducing an external complaints service for staff to report poor behaviour rather than having to report it internally.

Andy Roe, London Fire Brigade commissioner - David Rose for The Telegraph
Andy Roe, London Fire Brigade commissioner - David Rose for The Telegraph

In his conclusion, Mr Afzal said: “My review found evidence that supports a finding that LFB [London Fire Brigade] 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.”