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November 28, 2022

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London Fire Brigade to take “immediate action” following damning independent review into “institutionally misogynist and racist” culture

Following a damning independent review into the culture of the London Fire Brigade (LFB), firefighters face suspension or dismissal if they are found to have bullied or been racist, misogynistic or homophobic, its Commissioner, Andy Roe has stated.

Andy Roe London Fire Brigade

Andy Roe, London Fire Brigade Commissioner

The Commissioner announced these steps after an independent review found the LFB to be “institutionally misogynist and racist” with “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and barriers faced by people of colour”.

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

Led by Nazir Afzal OBE, a former chief crown prosecutor, evidence was collected over a 10-month period which included online surveys, in person interviews and focus groups along with fire station visits. Over 1,600 LFB staff completed the online survey, alongside over 250 direct interviews with current and previous members of staff.

The review detailed accounts ranging from women being groped, a black firefighter having a noose put by his locker, to people having their helmets filled with urine. Many cases of bullying and complaints were not investigated.

There was a “clear recognition among senior leaders at LFB that all is not well with workplace culture and that urgent changes were needed” Afzal noted, continuing: “we heard multiple cases of bullying and the targeting of ethnic minorities and women – and while these were distressing to hear, the human consequences of this behaviour were much worse. It left a clear trail of psychological harm which manifested itself in low self-worth, suicidal thoughts and mental health problems”.

In a letter to Commissioner Roe, Afzal described how many of the people his team spoke to throughout the report’s process were “reduced to tears” with complaints they’d raised previously “going nowhere”.

According to the report, the Grenfell Tower fire had a “seismic impact” on the culture of LFB, taking a toll on the mental health of the brigade, with 88 periods of sickness absence recorded relating to the fire.

Commissioner to take “immediate action”

The 2022 report makes 23 recommendations based on the experiences of hundreds of staff members. Commissioner Roe stated in his letter to Afzal that he would “completely accept the 23 recommendations” and would be “fully accountable for improving our culture”.

Within the letter, Roe set out that he would take “immediate action”, with anyone accused of “discrimination, harassment and bullying” to be suspended and dismissed if found to be true. In addition, an external complaints service will be set up for staff to feel they can speak objectively and confidentially, alongside a review that will take place of all cases from the past five years.

The Brigade’s staff will also begin to pilot body worn cameras and encourage members of the public to report any poor behaviour.

A previous inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in 2019 showed that some staff reported a “toxic” and “pack like” culture.


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