Young firefighter who took own life ‘not victim of discrimination’- report

An investigation into the death of a young black firefighter who took his own life has found no evidence of direct discrimination, bullying or harassment by his colleagues.

Jaden Francois-Esprit, 21, a firefighter at Wembley fire station, died at his home in Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, east London, in late August 2020.

His family feared he had been bullied by London Fire Brigade (LFB) colleagues because of his race, however, an independent external review, which was published on Tuesday, found no evidence this was the case.

None of the allegations, including that Mr Francois-Esprit was unfairly singled out, teased about Caribbean food in his packed lunches and exposed to a toxic working environment, were upheld in the report, which took a year to complete.

The dyslexic junior firefighter was not provided with a locker when he started and his bed, used to rest on night shifts, was in a poor state, however, this was not unique to him, the report said.

Mr Francois-Esprit also had concerns other firefighters would roll their eyes when he made tea and ridicule him if he spilt any.

Investigators said in the report: “It is possible that a cumulative lack of confidence, not least when speaking to an audience, Jaden’s working conditions with an initial lack of locker provision, the inadequacy of beds and consequent sleep issues, and the ‘tradition’ of making tea, could have had a disproportionate effect on Jaden due to his neurodiversity.

“Most of these issues were working conditions for all firefighters serving at the fire station and were not designed or intended to cause Jaden any detriment.

“It is understandable that a man aged 20 might find the working conditions to be not what he had expected.

“The impact of the pandemic – the uncertainty of his progression, the immediate change to social norms and resulting sense of individual isolation, for example – is likely also to have negatively affected Jaden’s wellbeing.

“It is also possible that what experienced firefighters saw as ‘team building’ or development activities were not perceived as such by someone who was neurodiverse.”

It comes after an independent culture review of LFB, led by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, and released in November 2022, found the organisation to be institutionally misogynist and racist in the wake of Mr Francois-Esprit’s death.

At an inquest into Mr Francois-Esprit’s death at King’s Cross Coroner’s Court in February 2021, his mother Linda Francois said her son was being “unfavourably singled out because he’s an ethnic minority”.

She said he “hated” working at Wembley Fire Station, and that he had told her his “crew manager” was bullying him.

She added her son was concerned about not receiving learning support from LFB with his dyslexia, and that he felt “isolated, bored and unfulfilled” at work.

The cause of his death was recorded as suspension.

Fire commissioner Andy Roe told a media briefing at City Hall on Tuesday morning: “I want to be clear (the findings) do not mean Jaden’s personal lived experience at the brigade was not a factor in his untimely death.

“I personally believe we failed Jaden as an organisation because the report’s findings do indicate failings in our day-to-day protocols, approaches and systems as they were at that time.”

Mr Roe said there were problems with the brigade’s “reliance” on long-standing systems and its approach to human resources at the time.

However, the commissioner said he sees Mr Francois-Esprit’s death as a “turning point” for the brigade, providing it with the opportunity to ask “very difficult questions”.

Mr Roe is due to address the London Assembly about the report findings on Tuesday.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Now that the independent investigation has concluded and its findings available, we owe it to Jaden Francois-Esprit and others joining the brigade to ensure that all lessons are learnt and built into the major ongoing cultural reform which is taking place within London Fire Brigade.”