The London Fire Brigade’s commissioner has accepted the organisation is institutionally racist and misogynist and has vowed that change “starts now”.
It comes after an independent review of the capital’s fire service found the organisation had a “toxic culture”, with accounts ranging from women being groped to people having their helmets filled with urine.
The review, led by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, contains further shocking incidents such as a black firefighter who was subject to racist bullying which culminated in someone putting a mock noose above his locker.
The report also refers to a Muslim firefighter, bullied because of his faith, who had bacon put in his sandwich by his colleagues.
Andy Roe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was “horrified” to read the damning report, adding: “I think that there will be many of my staff, decent dedicated public servants, that will be equally horrified. Yeah, heartbroken really.”
Asked if he agrees with the review’s finding the brigade is institutionally misogynist and racist, he said: “I think when 2,000 of your staff have written that story you can’t deny any of it. I accept the report in full, I accept all the recommendations.
“There will be change and the change starts now.”
He insisted the public can trust his brigade because no evidence was found of “operational bigotry”, meaning no “discrimination in the way we conduct our response”.
“In terms of our response, when a member of the public calls 999 are they going to get a response that turns out in a way that is entirely equal and fair regardless of who they are? Yes, I’m confident that we do that,” he said.
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 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.
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.”
Mr Afzal said he wished to draw an important distinction with similar problems experienced by the Metropolitan Police.
“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.