Firefighter’s mother calls report into his death ‘a whitewash’

A report into Jaden Francois-Esprit’s death by suicide claims he was not “directly discriminated against”, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Jaden Francois-Esprit (inset) took his own life
Jaden Francois-Esprit (inset) took his own life

The mother of a young firefighter who took his own life has said a new report claiming he was not “directly discriminated against” by colleagues due to his race is “a whitewash”.

The new, independent report into the treatment of 21-year-old firefighter Jaden Francois-Esprit at Wembley Fire Station was published on Tuesday (27th February).

Francois-Esprit died by suicide at his home in Wapping in August 2020. The new investigation was carried out by CMP Solutions, commissioned by the London Fire Brigade (LFB).

It examined seven allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination experienced by Francois-Esprit, but none were upheld. It 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 added however: “It is possible that some of the comments made in Jaden’s presence could have been perceived by him as microaggressions.”

In comments to The Guardian this week, Francois-Esprit’s mother, Linda Francois, called the new report “a whitewash”.

She told the newspaper: “I’m furious that the authors of the report have chosen not to acknowledge what Jaden shared with me about his feelings at work, how upset he felt and the frustration of feeling stuck to the extent he wanted to leave the brigade and considered employment with the London Ambulance Service.”

The report referred to several incidents which it said had been raised by Francois-Esprit’s family, including the fact that he was unhappy with not being initially given a locker for his belongings, and was given a broken bed to sleep on. It concluded however that those were not examples of him being treated differently to other firefighters.

The review also referred to “concerns about why Jaden stopped bringing in food, and suggestions that he may have been teased about the Caribbean food that he did take in, for example rice and peas”. It found however that the “first-hand evidence of witnesses” indicated he was “neither teased about his food, nor was he treated in a way that could be construed either as bullying behaviour or as being racially derogatory”.

In remarks to BBC London, Jaden’s mother said the findings were “utter rubbish”. “I’m quite offended, actually, that they [the report’s authors] say that he didn’t share [his concerns] with his family,” she said.

“We contacted his station manager to share that we believed he was being bullied and we shared that he was struggling mentally; we were so worried and concerned about him.

“It was all mentioned at the inquest, there’s so many falsities within this report.”

In a statement CMP Solutions told BBC London it was asked to “conduct an independent investigation to determine if there was any evidence of bullying, harassment, or discrimination of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit during his time, as a trainee firefighter on the apprenticeship scheme, at Wembley Fire Station”.

It said: “CMP has concluded that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations and therefore none of the allegations were upheld.”

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

Francois-Esprit made four requests to transfer to different London fire stations between February and August 2020. LFB commissioner Andy Roe said on Tuesday that the LFB “failed Jaden as an organisation”, through a degree of “complacency” and “over-adherence to established processes” within the brigade.

In comments responding to Jaden’s mother’s remarks, the commissioner said:  “I would like to express my sincere condolences to Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit’s family. Jaden’s death was a shocking tragedy for London Fire Brigade. It was important to understand more about Jaden’s lived experience at work in the time leading up to his death and to ensure that his case was fully and properly investigated.

“The independent external investigation I commissioned had a very specific brief. The comprehensive investigation which took place over the course of a year, involved over 40 witness interviews and hundreds of documents submitted. CMP also had access to material relating to our internal investigations and the Coroner’s proceedings. It has found no evidence of direct discrimination, bullying or harassment against Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit by his colleagues at the Brigade because of his age, race, or disability through dyslexia or mental health.

“Nevertheless, we cannot ignore what the evidence tells us about Jaden’s personal lived experience at the brigade in the time leading up to his death. The report’s findings indicate failings of our day-to-day protocols, approaches and systems at the time and reinforce the need for organisational improvement.

“Jaden’s death was a turning point for the brigade. We continue to take action that ensures the systems and processes that let Jaden down are improved and where required, changed. I am confident that purpose and culture run through all of our transformation work and will continue to drive the changes we are making.”

If you’re struggling and need to talk, the Samaritans operate a free helpline open 24/7 on 116 123. Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or visit their site to find your local branch

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