As part of the inquiry Afzal and his team interviewed Londoners left devastated by the 2017 Grenfell fire

London (AFP) - London’s fire service said on Friday it was taking “immediate action”, after an independent review concluded it was institutionally misogynistic and racist.

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) promised a “zero tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying” as details of the report were leaked by the press.

The service said it had accepted around two dozen recommendations from a review led by former senior prosecutor Nazir Afzal.

It conceded that the report had “accounts of shockingly poor behaviour and painful experiences over many years”.

The service’s response includes launching an external complaints system, and piloting the use of bodycams for when staff meet the public on home fire safety visits.

The review, launched in March last year, is set to be published imminently. But citing a leaked copy, The Sunday Times said it had unearthed a “toxic culture” inside Britain’s largest fire service.

Afzal discovered dozens of examples of racism, bullying and misogyny, the newspaper reported. In one case, a female firefighter’s helmet had been filled with urine; in another a black employee found a noose above his locker.

Following the leak late Friday, Afzal himself confirmed on Twitter that he “did find LFB was institutionally misogynist & racist.

“The staff deserve better,” he added.

- ‘Abhorrent’ -

London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe said in a statement that the report made it “a very sobering day” for the service.

“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.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the review “a watershed moment” calling the findings “abhorrent”.

He called for “significant and necessary changes to root out all those found to be responsible for sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, bullying or harassment – and to support members of staff to speak out”

The report has echoes of the 1999 Macpherson inquiry into London’s Metropolitan Police, following the racist murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence. That report condemned the force for “institutional racism”.

A quarter century on, the Met is still grappling with serious racial and gender biases problems, with a recent slew of allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination.

Roe asked Afzal, who has prosecuted grooming gangs and celebrity sexual abusers, to conduct the organisation-wide independent culture review following the death by suicide of trainee firefighter Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit.

The 21-year-old took his own life in August 2020 and a subsequent internal investigation unearthed “some tough questions for the Brigade regarding its culture”, said the LFB.

- ‘Completely unacceptable behaviour’ -

Afzal and his team interviewed more than 2,000 current and former staff, as well as the public, including members of the West London community left devastated by the 2017 Grenfell fire.

Among the “many issues” identified within the LFB were examples of “completely unacceptable behaviour from some of our staff when dealing with the public”, said Roe.

In response, the LFB said any staff – at all levels of rank and position – accused of bullying, harassment and discrimination would be suspended pending an investigation and dismissed if the accusation is upheld.

The service plans to outsource a confidential complaints and investigation process and ensure staff have easier and quicker access to mental health support.

“We will challenge poor behaviour and do everything required to rebuild trust with our people and the communities we are here to serve,” Roe added.

He vowed “to root out the people, systems and behaviours that discriminate against others”.