London Fire Brigade chief ‘desperately sorry’ young firefighter was ‘let down’

The London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) chief has said he is “desperately sorry” that a young black firefighter, who took his own life, was let down by the organisation.

An independent external review into 21-year-old Jaden Francois-Esprit’s death found no evidence of direct discrimination, bullying or harassment by his colleagues at Wembley fire station.

Mr Francois-Esprit’s family feared his death at his home in Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, east London, in late August 2020, came after bullying from colleagues because of his race.

Despite the new review finding that was not the case, fire commissioner Andy Roe admitted better systems should have been in place to support the young firefighter.

“He should be here now enjoying a long career in the London Fire Brigade. It is heartbreaking to me and the organisation that he isn’t.

“I’m clear from all the different reports that we have commissioned and led on into the circumstances surrounding Jaden’s death, that in the organisational sense we let Jaden down because our systems and our support and our processes at the time were not adequate to give him what he needed to really succeed in his career.

“I am desperately sorry for that, and I always will be.”

None of the allegations, including that Mr Francois-Esprit was unfairly singled out, teased about Caribbean food in his packed lunches and exposed to a toxic working environment, were upheld in the report, which took a year to complete.

The dyslexic junior firefighter was not provided with a locker when he started and his bed, used to rest on night shifts, was in a poor state, however, this was not unique to him, the report said.

Mr Francois-Esprit also had concerns other firefighters would roll their eyes when he made tea and ridicule him if he spilt any.

“Most of these issues were working conditions for all firefighters serving at the fire station and were not designed or intended to cause Jaden any detriment.

“It is understandable that a man aged 20 might find the working conditions to be not what he had expected.

“The impact of the pandemic – the uncertainty of his progression, the immediate change to social norms and resulting sense of individual isolation, for example – is likely also to have negatively affected Jaden’s wellbeing.

“It is also possible that what experienced firefighters saw as ‘team building’ or development activities were not perceived as such by someone who was neurodiverse.”

It comes after an independent culture review of LFB, led by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, and released in November 2022, found the organisation to be institutionally misogynist and racist in the wake of Mr Francois-Esprit’s death.

At an inquest into Mr Francois-Esprit’s death at King’s Cross Coroner’s Court in February 2021, his mother Linda Francois said her son was being “unfavourably singled out because he’s an ethnic minority”.

She said he “hated” working at Wembley Fire Station, and that he had told her his “crew manager” was bullying him.

She added her son was concerned about not receiving learning support from LFB with his dyslexia, and that he felt “isolated, bored and unfulfilled” at work.

The cause of his death was recorded as suspension.

However, the commissioner said he sees Mr Francois-Esprit’s death as a “turning point” for the brigade, providing it with the opportunity to ask “very difficult questions”.

Mr Roe addressed the London Assembly about the report findings on Tuesday.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Now that the independent investigation has concluded and its findings available, we owe it to Jaden Francois-Esprit and others joining the brigade to ensure that all lessons are learnt and built into the major ongoing cultural reform which is taking place within London Fire Brigade.”

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