The London Fire Brigade (LFB) is “institutionally misogynist and racist” with a “toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse”, an independent review has found.
One black firefighter had a noose put above his locker while a female firefighter said she advised female friends not to let male firefighters in the house to check smoke alarms because they “go through women’s drawers looking for underwear and sex toys”.
She said 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.”
In another incident, a Muslim had bacon and sausages put in his coat pockets and a terrorist hotline sign posted on his locker.
Nazir Afzal, the author of the review and a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, said he and his team “found dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and the barriers faced by people of colour spoke for themselves”.
People from ethnically diverse backgrounds were more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted and largely unrepresented at senior levels, and also frequently racially abused.
There was also “clear evidence of racism, misogyny and bullying, which made it hard for many firefighters to do their job and forced others out of the Brigade”.
In his conclusion, Mr Afzal said: “My review found evidence that supports a finding that LFB 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.”
‘Not find the same level of operational bigotry’ as Met Police
Mr Afzal said he wished to draw an important distinction with similar issues experienced by the Metropolitan Police, which was put “on notice” earlier this year after evidence emerged of sexist, racist and homophobic behaviour among officers.
“Where there has been flagrant examples of police officers misusing power and allowing prejudice to shape their actions, we did not find the same level of operational bigotry,” he said.
The report said the disadvantage and discrimination affecting staff did not translate into its operations or affect the way it prevents and responds to incidents.
Over 10 months, Mr Nazir and his team heard the experiences of more than 2,000 current and former staff and the public, including members of the community affected by the Grenfell fire.
The report, which makes 23 recommendations, was established after the suicide of firefighter Jaden Francois-Espirit. His family were concerned he had been bullied because of his race, the report said.
Review ‘must be nothing short of watershed moment’
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the review “must be nothing short of a watershed moment”.
He said for LFB to be trusted to protect all Londoners it must be a workplace free from discrimination, unfairness and inequality, where people of all backgrounds can thrive.
He said: “The details published today of institutional misogyny, racism and discrimination are abhorrent.
“Londoners, including firefighters and other staff, have been let down by those who should have supported them have every right to be angry, as I am.
“I fully supported the fire commissioner, Andy Roe, in commissioning this review and we both agree that all of its recommendations and findings must be acted upon with urgency and conviction to rebuild public trust and the confidence of LFB staff and firefighters who have been failed for far too long.”
‘A very sobering day’
London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe said: “Today is a very sobering day. 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.”