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Firefighters face sack if found to have bullied or been racist, LFB boss says

London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe spoke at a briefing at LFB headquarters.

Last updated
Summer weather July 21st 2022

Swathes of firefighters face the sack if they are found to have bullied or been racist, misogynistic or homophobic, the London Fire Brigade chief has said.

The fire service has “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women”, while colleagues from minority backgrounds are “frequently the target of racist abuse”, an independent culture review found.

Led by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, it has accounts ranging from women being groped to people having their helmets filled with urine.

London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe told a briefing at LFB headquarters on Saturday: “We are going to take a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment and discrimination.

“What that means, if we think about the immediate steps, is that I expect to dismiss people as a result of this report.

“Clearly, there are some disturbing examples of where we have betrayed public confidence and trust in this report.”

Asked how many could lose their jobs, he added: “If we find that you have behaved in a way that is highlighted in this report, there is not a place for you in the London Fire Brigade.

“In a way the numbers don’t matter to me.”

He said they need to start the process “immediately”, but there are no estimates on how much it will cost.

London Fire Brigade culture review
London Fire Brigade Commissioner Andy Roe (Belinda Jiao/PA)

Mr Afzal told the PA news agency: “We’re talking way beyond single figures and we’re probably talking into dozens of people who have had complaints about them, who have been involved in behaviours of this nature who probably outlived their time at London Fire Brigade.”

The report reveals incidents such as a black firefighter who was subject to racist bullying which culminated in someone putting a mock noose above his locker.

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

Over a period of 10 months, a seven-strong team led by Mr Afzal gathered evidence of what people experienced in their working environment and the wider culture that supported this.

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

In his conclusion, Mr Afzal said: “My review found evidence that supports a finding that LFB is institutionally misogynist and racist.”

Mr Roe said: “I’ve been in rooms where people use frankly racist language, and I’ll call it out head on, I’ll explain how it made me feel.

“I wanted to have a conversation with people as much as anything because my experience of this is that people don’t even know they’re causing offence sometimes.”

Michael Brewer court case
Nazir Afzal (Martin Rickett/PA)

The report, which makes 23 recommendations, is based on the experiences of hundreds of staff members.

The review was established in response to the death of firefighter Jaden Francois-Esprit, who took his own life in August 2020.

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

Asked if he would meet with Jaden’s family, Mr Roe told PA: “The offer is there to speak to Jaden’s family.

“I’ve spoken to them on more than one occasion.

“I’ve got no doubt that that his family will want to sit down and talk to me again and that will be at their convenience at a time that’s best for them.”

He went on: “I would apologise to them as I have when I met them previously, and I would ask them if they could see the report as the catalyst for change this organisation needs and that report was driven by the tragic death of their son.

“So if there has to be a legacy for Jaden then let it be that he was the reason we called this report in such a way and let his legacy be one of change.”

Gareth Cook, of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “Our rules and policies require every FBU member to treat others with dignity and respect and to challenge offensive behaviour of any kind.

“The union is committed to equality. We campaign against all discrimination by gender, race or ethnicity, sexuality, age, disability and religion or belief. We have a long record of campaigning on such issues.

“However, we have raised concerns about many of the issues contained within this report historically and as a consequence we remain sceptical about the changes senior leaders will implement with regards to their own behaviours.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Twitter: “The findings of the London Fire Brigade review must be nothing short of a watershed moment for the Brigade.

“The details published are abhorrent. Londoners have been let down and they have every right to be angry – as I am.”

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