MPs call for inquiry into claims of bullying in UK fire services

New details emerge from report on London’s brigades as opposition parties demand national review

The Home Office is facing demands from opposition MPs for a national inquiry into the culture of the UK’s fire services, as new details emerged from a damning report on London’s brigades that revealed widespread misogyny and racism.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats said the inquiry was necessary after the government overlooked previous warnings that fire brigades across the country were riven with bullying.

Previously unpublished testimony from female firefighters shows that one claimed to have been regularly sexually harassed after complaining about her male colleague, who she said would show colleagues footage of himself having sex, while another said she was driven to using antidepressants after decades of physical and mental bullying.

The disturbing disclosures in a report conducted by Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor, included that female firefighters had been groped and beaten. Some male firefighters who visited women’s homes for safety visits would go through drawers looking for underwear and sex toys, a female firefighter told the report.

In the Commons on Monday, the shadow Home Office minister Sarah Jones said: “Will the minister immediately commission a fundamental review of national standards and culture in our fire service? Will he agree now to publish national statistics on misconduct? And will he today commit to national professional standards?”

Munira Wilson, the Lib Dem MP for Twickenham, asked the government to launch a national inquiry because “the public’s confidence has been shaken”.

Chris Philp, the Home Office minister, responded by saying he would raise with the appropriate body, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services, whether it could look at the culture of fire services across the UK.

“She [Jones] asked about issues outside of the London fire brigade and I agree that those do need attention, and I will be discussing with Her [sic] Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services what work they can do, to look at behavioural and cultural issues such as these across the whole country,” he said.

Testimony handed to the Afzal inquiry included claims from a female firefighter of 20 years’ experience that she was harassed and stalked after complaining about a colleague who would show footage of himself having sex.

“One firefighter in particular used to show the watch videos on his phone of him having sex with women. I ignored it for a long time and then finally had a chat with my sub officer,” she said. “This man knew my mobile number and I used to get anonymous video calls from a man with an erection saying to me ‘you want this don’t you’, calling me by my name.

“This happened many times and my husband witnessed it. I decided to tell this man that I’d changed my phone number … then the obscenities stopped.”

Another female firefighter of 10 years’ experience said that while all firefighters faced humiliating initiation rituals, they never seemed to end for women. “It’s a lot worse as a woman. You’re told you only got the job because you’re a woman. That you’re there just to fill a quota and you’re useless. Then they drive over your shoes, throw your kit in the bin and grope you on hoist training,” she said.

“One guy kept telling me I was a useless driver and tried to drag me out of the seat while I was reversing. I’ve been punched, slapped and had my hair pulled too. Before long I was on antidepressants.”

She also told investigators: “If you complain about bullying, it goes nowhere. I did once and my crew manager lied and said he’d seen nothing. It’s an incredibly laddish culture and diversity isn’t valued at all. Lots of farting, burping and sexist jokes. And plenty of racism. People constantly going on about ‘Muzzers’. We had terrorism training and my watch kept pointing out of the window at brown people. ‘There’s one, there’s one and another,’ they kept saying.”


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Every fire brigade in England plagued by bullying and harassment claims, report finds
Inspectors say ‘deeply troubling’ behaviour found at fire and rescue services across England may be ‘tip of the iceberg’

Kevin Rawlinson

30, Mar, 2023 @9:00 PM

Article image
Dominic Raab facing fresh suspension calls amid inquiry into bullying claims
Opposition parties say anyone in another workplace would be suspended during such an investigation

Aletha Adu

01, Feb, 2023 @10:34 AM

Article image
London fire brigade put into special measures over misogyny and racism
Watchdog to monitor force closely after damning report revealed deep-seated behavioural problems

Rachel Hall

14, Dec, 2022 @12:45 PM

Article image
Theresa May accuses fire and rescue services of significant failings
Home secretary says lack of diversity and accountability as well as ‘bullying culture’ in parts of country make reform necessary

Alan Travis Home afairs editor

24, May, 2016 @2:19 PM

Article image
Colleagues of Steve Barclay defend health secretary over bullying claims
Foreign secretary, James Cleverly, says reports that there have been no complaints are accurate

Alexandra Topping

27, Apr, 2023 @9:59 AM

Article image
Emergency services face 'potentially catastrophic' communication gap
MPs warn that six-month delay of cheaper ESN system approved by Theresa May could be ‘tragedy in waiting’

Rajeev Syal

20, Apr, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
‘Sound that could save your life’: UK disaster alert to buzz phones on 23 April
Mobile phones with 4G or 5G signal will make siren sound and vibrate at 3pm on Sunday of test

Emily Dugan

06, Apr, 2023 @7:33 AM

Article image
Home Office blamed as emergency services network costs rise
Overspend of £3.1bn and delay down to department’s failings, says National Audit Office

Rajeev Syal

09, May, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Ministers complacent over high-rise fire risk, say firefighters
Fire Brigades Union questions government’s claims that resources are sufficient

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

20, May, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Ministers accused of being ‘happy to let public suffer’ over NHS pay row
Unions contrast government’s approach with revised offer for firefighters after face-to-face talks with employers

Heather Stewart

09, Feb, 2023 @2:15 PM