Author of damning fire brigade report calls for probe into other public bodies
ITV News' Charlie Frost heard from a former LFB firefighter, who suggested the report's findings were not shocking to her
People who work in the NHS, BBC, Navy, Army and numerous police forces have raised “serious concerns” about the way they are treated, a lawyer has said.
An independent culture review of London Fire Brigade (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 are “frequently the target of racist abuse”.
Mr Afzal has called for a “national inquiry” into other public bodies, saying he has been approached in the past 24 hours by several people who work for them.
Speaking at a briefing at the LFB headquarters in central London on Saturday, he said: “There are members of five different police forces who have approached me and said similar concerns about their own forces, I won’t name them.
“I’ve had approaches, it may shock, from the BBC and I’ve had approaches from the National Health Service. “They are pivotal to the British society, these organisations, and yet there are people within them that are seriously concerned about the way they’re being treated within their organisations. “I don’t know what to do, the BBC won’t ask me, the NHS won’t ask me, somebody needs to ask the people who work in these organisations and policing. “I can assure you there are 43 police forces with problems and with serious concerns, and yet you currently know only about two. “There needs to be a national inquiry, particularly in relation to misogyny because this is a subject that hasn’t had the attention that it deserves.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC is a modern and inclusive organisation that seeks to create a culture where everyone can thrive professionally and produce their best work. “We have a zero tolerance approach and would encourage anyone who has witnessed or been subject to inappropriate behaviour, to report it.”
The report into the LFB contained shocking accounts of the brigade's culture, including helmets being filled with urine, pornographic videos and stories of racist bullying.
The independent review laid bare the experiences endured by members of staff, with the report referring to a “toxic culture” and a conclusion that found the organisation “institutionally misogynist and racist”.
The brigade’s commissioner said that any firefighter found to have exhibited such behaviour would be subject to disciplinary measures.
Speaking at a briefing on Saturday, Andy Rowe said, “We are going to take a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment and discrimination.
“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 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.”
He said they need to start the process “immediately”, but there are no estimates on how much it will cost.
The report said its team heard stories 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, according to the report.
The report also referred to instances of men watching porn in fire stations.
“Any close inspection of some of the fire stations shows a watch culture, where men are sometimes huddled around a screen watching porn, which belongs in the last century,” it said.
The report referred to women having their uniforms urinated on and men keeping diaries of when they suspected women were on a period and telling 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.
"Nothing was ever done"
Speaking to ITV News Lucy Masoud, a former firefighter and union discipline representative with the London fire brigade, suggested that the findings in the report were not shocking to her.
"I represented a lot of firefighters, including female firefighters and black firefighters," she said.
"Many of them raised complaints of bullying against managers, and in my experience, nothing was ever done."
The UK's largest fire service has been branded as "institutionally misogynist and racist" in a report that also found unacceptable levels of bullying. Harry Horton has the latest
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, according to the report.
The review team heard from a black firefighter who had been subject to racist bullying on his watch, which culminated in someone putting a mock noose over his locker.
They also heard from a Muslim firefighter who had been routinely bullied on his watch because of his faith.
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Colleagues 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 said colleagues asked how his Al Qaida training had gone when he returned from the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
His work colleagues also 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 said a terrorism hotline sticker was also placed on his locker.
“When he experienced a fatality, a Muslim Pakistani woman, in a fire and his colleagues made jokes about the body, this was the final straw.
“After making several complaints that were dismissed, he began to suffer from depression and anxiety, and would later collapse at work and be admitted to hospital.
“He has since been diagnosed with PTSD and has confessed to having suicidal thoughts,” the report said.
The report said this example demonstrates the impact of casual cruelty that 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.”
A female firefighter told the review that 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.
“Then they will spend hours bragging about the dildo they found and they will refer to the women as sluts.
“We hear it all the time and I’m sick of it. You shouldn’t have to listen to this all the time in any workplace,” she said.