London Fire Brigade report: Transport minister Mark Harper rejects national misogyny and racism inquiry

It revealed the “toxic culture” in the country’s largest fire service as details of “stomach turning” accounts from victims were made public.

A government minister has rejected calls for a national inquiry into misogyny and racism in the workplace after a shock report into London’s fire service uncovered prejudice and abuse.

Independent report author Nazir Afzal found evidence the London Fire Brigade (LFB) was “institutionally misogynistic and racist” in a damning 88-page review released on Saturday.

It revealed the “toxic culture” in the country’s largest fire service as details of “stomach turning” accounts from victims were made public.

  • One female firefighter suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when her helmet was filled with urine and she was zipped into a body bag as a practical joke;
  • A black employee found a noose above his locker, while a Muslim firefighter had a terrorism hotline sticker put near his things and was asked about ‘al-Qaeda training’;
  • A Muslim staff member said he was “routinely bullied”, with bacon put in his coat;. 
  • Another woman said she told female friends not to let male firefighters in the house because they would look for underwear and sex toys; 
  • Semen was also said to have been smeared on women’s tunics at some stations.

These accounts are part of the report, titled the Independent Cultural Review of LFB.

A London Fire Brigade firefighter. Photo: Getty

It was obtained by the Sunday Times and was commissioned after the death of Jaden Francois-Esprit, 21, a Wembley fire station trainee who took his own life in August 2020.

An inquest last year heard he believed he was being bullied at work because of his ethnicity, teased about the Carribean food he brought for lunch and had made 16 requests to transfer.

Mr Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for North West England, has said the concerns are a national issue and called for a wider inquiry.

"We’re not talking about a tiny outbreak here, a tiny outbreak there,” he said. "This is a national pandemic issue, which requires a national pandemic-type response."

But speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday political programme, the transport secretary Mark Harper rejected the idea.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the plans concerning airport security rules are “under review”. Credit: Getty Images

He said: “I don’t think you want every organisation in the entire country, when there hasn’t been a specific event, to be setting up inquiries all over the place.

"But I do think all leaders of organisations should look at that report and think whether it could happen in their organisation.

“If they think it could, then they should think about what they need to do about making sure it couldn’t."

Commenting on Mr Afzal’s findings, Mr Harper said: "Frankly they were absolutely appalling.

“I worked in business before I was in politics and that behaviour just wouldn’t be acceptable in any workplace.”

Nazir Afzal at the Pride of Birmingham Awards 2022. Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

He added: "That inquiry was triggered by a specific case, of the tragic suicide of someone who took their own life as a result of bullying.

“I don’t know of any similar examples elsewhere."

LFB commissioner Andy Roe said the report was “sobering” and that: “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 and I fully accept all of the 23 recommendations.”

Mayor Sadiq Khan said the findings were “abhorrent” and must be “a watershed moment”.

He added: “I am confident that fire commissioner, Andy Roe, recognises the scale of the problems and is the right person to lead deep-rooted reform needed of culture and systems.

“Some of that work has already started with a new independent team investigating complaints and a pledge to scrutinise firefighter interactions with the public through body worn video. But more must be done and at pace.

“For the brigade to be trusted to serve and protect all Londoners it must be a workplace free from discrimination, unfairness and inequality where people of all backgrounds can thrive.”