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London fire chief: We 'failed' young firefighter who took his own life

The London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) chief has said his organisation “should have done better” for a young firefighter who took his own life.

His comments came as a new report into the workplace treatment of 21-year-old Jaden Francois-Esprit - who died by suicide in August 2020 - has found no evidence he was bullied because of his race or other factors.

The conclusion was reached despite the fact that the LFB was found in a separate independent review in 2022 to be an “institutionally racist” organisation.

London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe admitted that better systems should have been in place to support the young firefighter, who among other issues, was unhappy with not being initially given a locker for his belongings, and was given a broken bed to sleep on.

The report found however that these were not examples of Mr Francois-Esprit being treated differently to other firefighters.

The new, external investigation was commissioned early last year, following an internal inquiry by the LFB. Interviews were held with more than 40 people, including Mr Francois-Esprit’s family and those based at Wembley fire station.

Seven allegations about his treatment at the station were examined, with none upheld.

Mr Francois-Esprit’s family had raised concerns following his death that he was being bullied due to his race and teased by colleagues about his packed lunches of Caribbean food.

But the report concluded: “There was no evidence that Jaden had been directly discriminated against because of his age, race, or disability through dyslexia or mental health”.

It acknowledges however: “It is possible that some of the comments made in Jaden’s presence could have been perceived by him as microaggressions.”

Speaking to the London Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, Mr Roe said: “I have to recognise that this will be a very difficult day for the family and they may well not welcome the findings of this report.

“I’m extremely sorry for the impact all of this will have had on them, their family and their lives.”

Mr Francois-Esprit made four requests to transfer to different London fire stations between February and August 2020.

Mr Roe said that the LFB “failed Jaden as an organisation”, through a degree of “complacency” and “over-adherence to established processes” within the Brigade.

He added: “I still believe that we should have done better for Jaden, and have to do better.”

Mr Francois-Esprit had dyslexia but this was not recognised by his colleagues, who told the investigation that there is “an organisation-wide lack of awareness about dyslexia”.

Jaden Francois-Esprit (PA)
Jaden Francois-Esprit (PA)

Mr Roe told the Standard: “Putting it simply, the HR processes, systems, and in particular support for trainees we had at the time were not adequate to properly support young trainee firefighters in the workplace.

“That wasn’t just common to Jaden, but across the trainee firefighter cohort. It’s those systems and processes in relation to this tragic loss of a firefighter, that we’ve worked very hard to change fundamentally.”

The LFB has said it is “working hard” to reform its overall culture in response to the 2022 review by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, which found the organisation to be “institutionally misogynist and racist”.

Mr Afzal’s review uncovered accounts ranging from women being groped to firefighters having their helmets filled with urine.

Mr Roe said the LFB had now completed nine of Mr Afzal’s 23 recommendations, with the remaining 14 “well in progress, with many completed in the near to medium term”.

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