Minister rejects call for national misogyny and racism inquiry after LFB report

An independent culture review of London Fire Brigade found ‘dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women’.

Firefighters
Firefighters

A Cabinet minister has rejected a call for a national inquiry into misogyny and racism in the workplace after the damning review into London Fire Brigade (LFB).

An independent culture review of LFB led by Nazir Afzal – a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West – found “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women”, while colleagues from minority backgrounds were “frequently the target of racist abuse”.

Mr Afzal called for a “national inquiry” into other public bodies, saying he was approached by people who work in the NHS, the BBC, the military and police forces with similar concerns.

Asked about the prospect of this, Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “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, and if they think it could then they should think about what they need to do about making sure it couldn’t.”

Mr Afzal told the PA news agency that a national review should focus on misogyny and racism across all sectors.

He went on: “We’re not talking about a tiny outbreak here, a tiny outbreak there.

“This is a national pandemic issue, which requires a national pandemic-type response.”

The LFB report revealed incidents such as a black firefighter being subjected to racist bullying which culminated in someone putting a mock noose above his locker.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Mark Harper described the report findings as ‘absolutely appalling’ (Belinda Jiao/PA)

It also referred 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 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.

The report, which made 23 recommendations, was 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.

Speaking about the 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.

“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 any similar examples of elsewhere.”

He praised London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe for accepting the report’s findings, saying that is the “sort of leadership you want”.

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

London Fire Brigade culture review
London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe said those behind incidents highlighted in the report have no place in the brigade (Belinda Jiao/PA)

“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 people 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.”

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