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Author of London fire brigade report warns of racism and misogyny in other organisations

The Guardian logo The Guardian 26/11/2022 Diane Taylor and Geneva Abdul
Photograph: Ian Marlow/Alamy © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Ian Marlow/Alamy

The problems of institutional misogyny and racism uncovered in the London fire brigade could be widespread across dozens of other public institutions, the author of a report into systemic failings in the service has warned.

Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor who carried out the review, called for a national inquiry into other public bodies, saying he has been approached by several people who work for them.

The independent report into the London fire brigade, includesthe anonymous accounts of more than 2,000 staff members detailing abuse by co-workers, including from a black firefighter who had a noose placed above his locker and a Muslim colleague who had bacon and sausages stuffed in his pockets. Female firefighters reported being groped, beaten and having their helmets filled with urine.

Speaking at a briefing for media at the headquarters of the London fire brigade on Saturday morning, Afzal said he had been contacted by employees across a range of prominent institutions including the NHS, BBC and various police forces.

He called for a national inquiry to address these concerns, particularly of misogyny.

“These organisations are pivotal to British society yet people within them are seriously concerned about the way they are being treated in these organisations. There are 43 police forces with problems,” he said.

The London fire commissioner, Andy Roe, told the briefing that from Monday five years of complaints and allegations about bullying and harassment would be passed to an external organisation to be looked at.

Roe said he expected some LFB staff would be dismissed following the examination of these complaints and expected to see more complaints emerge.

He added: “We are going to take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment and discrimination.”

The report, titled Independent Cultural Review of London Fire Brigade, was published after a 12-month period in which six experts visited stations and gathered submissions from staff at all levels. While more than 4,500 of the London fire brigade’s 5,000 staff are firefighters, only 425 are women and slightly more than 500 are from ethnic minorities.

The review’s 21 recommendations, accepted by Roe, include 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.

The report was commissioned after the death of Jaden Francois-Esprit, a trainee at Wembley fire station who took his own life aged 21 in August 2020. Francois-Esprit was teased about the Caribbean food he brought in for lunch and made 16 requests to be transferred to another station, an inquest heard last year.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the London fire commissioner, Andy Roe. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA © Provided by The Guardian Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the London fire commissioner, Andy Roe. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

When asked if anyone had been held to account for Francois-Esprit’s death Roe said: “I’m accountable.”

The review found that in 2020 95% of firefighters were white.

The report stated: “We don’t have an understanding of what diversity means.”

One of the struggles Francois-Esprit had was not getting appropriate support for dyslexia. According to the report, 634 LFB staff have been diagnosed with or are under investigation for whether they should be diagnosed as neurodiverse.

The report found that people of colour were “frequently the target of racist abuse”, which led to some being driven out of LFB with victims “beset with feelings of shame, guilt and fear”.

Earlier on Saturday Gareth Cook, fire brigade’s union regional organiser for London, said: “The LFB report makes for difficult reading. The reported incidents of racism and misogyny are extremely alarming. There is no place for such behaviour or attitudes within the fire and rescue service or within our trade union.”

Cook said the union was committed to working to address the concerns and improve working conditions for members.


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