London Fire Brigade ‘institutionally misogynist and racist’, independent review concludes

London Fire Brigade is “institutionally misogynist and racist”, according to independent review of its culture.

Men huddled around a screen ad watched pornographic videos at some stations, and there were “multiple cases of bullying” and the targeting of ethnic minorities and women”, according to the report written by Nazir Afzal.

The report concluded that unless the “toxic culture” is tackled firefighters will take their lives.

Stories were documented of women being groped in training exercises and having to run a daily gauntlet of sexist abuse, frequently euphemised as “banter”.

Many were routinely referred to as “woman” or “front bottom” by colleagues, while some were even punched and attacked, it is claimed.

It was also claimed some female firefighters have had their uniforms urinated on and some men keep diaries of when they suspected women were on a period and told them they “didn’t want to be around women who were bleeding”.

It was reported that some men had explicitly said they did not want women on their watch and there were multiple accounts of women being subjected to unwanted sexual attention.

“This included men showing them pornographic videos and taking bets on who would get to sleep with them in the watch.

“One woman spoke of the distress of receiving video calls from a man exposing his penis and saying, ‘you want this don’t you’,” the report said.

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The review team requested disciplinary information from the brigade and were informed that there have been 10 cases of staff being disciplined for sexual harassment over the last five years and none had resulted in dismissal.

The report referred to incidents of continually mocking people’s religion and filling people’s helmets with urine.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues largely felt that they must work twice as hard to be heard and seen, it is claimed.

The review team heard a black firefighter had been subject to racist bullying on his watch, including someone putting a mock noose over his locker.

They also heard from a Muslim firefighter who it is claimed had been routinely bullied on his watch because of his faith.

Colleagues allegedly spoke to him in an Indian accent, would routinely ask him about his “magic carpet” and make racist remarks such as “off to your rucksack training, it shouldn’t be hard, all you have to do is pull the cord” when he was sent on training courses.

The report claimed colleagues asked how his Al Qaida training had gone when he returned from the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

His work colleagues also allegedly put a piece of bacon in his sandwich, and when he transferred to another watch, the abuse continued and colleagues put a pork sausage in his pocket while he was washing the dishes.

The report alleged terrorism hotline sticker was also placed on his locker and that he made several complaints that were dismissed.

It is also alleged he began to suffer from depression and anxiety – collapsed at work and was admitted to hospital.

He has since been diagnosed with PTSD and has confessed to having suicidal thoughts,” the report said.

The report said casual cruelty is allowed to continue unchecked in some stations because managers consider racial abuse to be acceptable “banter”.

It said: “That complaints are frequently blocked by managers and not allowed to go anywhere because they don’t deem such abuse to be racist means there is little protection or justice mechanisms for those on the receiving end of abuse.”

In response to the damning review the brigade pledged to make “immediate changes to provide increased protection for its staff.

It said the measures which will see anyone accused of discrimination, harassment and bullying suspended after a risk assessment, before they are investigated and dismissed if the accusation is upheld.

It is also introducing an external complaints service for staff to report poor behaviour rather than having to report it internally, while improving internal the internal complaints process.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The findings of Nazir Afzal OBE’s review must be nothing short of a watershed moment for the London Fire Brigade. The details published today of institutional misogyny, racism and discrimination are abhorrent.

“Londoners, including firefighters and other staff, who have been let down by those who should have supported them have every right to be angry, as I am.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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