South Wales Fire chief quits after report condemns sexual harassment and racism in service
The Chief fire officer of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service has quit after a report criticised the culture of the service, warning that it tolerated sexual harassment, sexual abuse, racism and criminality.
Huw Jakeway apologised and said he intended to retire from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service as it was “time for a change in leadership”.
The review led by Fenella Morris KC found there were “serious deficiencies” in the service, which included poor communication, insufficient role modelling by senior managers and a lack of transparency in recruitment and promotion, which led to accusations of nepotism.
It also identified: “The toleration of problematic behaviours, including sexual harassment; negative assumptions about women; domestic abuse and physical aggression outside of work; the expression of negative views in relation to the protected characteristics of sex, race and/or religion; bullying; harmful ‘banter’; drug and alcohol abuse; and improper interference with procedures.
“Misconduct, including criminal conduct, that has previously gone insufficiently addressed, to the detriment of the service’s culture.
“A lack of encouragement and support for people to speak up, and insufficient action when they do.”
Investigators interviewed 150 people and comments included “nothing good ever comes of putting in a grievance so we decided to keep quiet” and “you’d have to murder your own mother to get sacked from this place…”
The report was commissioned by the service following an investigation by ITV News in December 2022 which found evidence that two firemen had been allowed to keep their jobs despite sexually harassing and abusing women.
It found just 8% of operational service staff are female while only 17 members of staff self-identified as being BAME and 12 identified as LGBT+.
There was a “boys’ club” within the service, especially among senior managers, who were also criticised for taking a ski trip to Italy shortly before Wales went into the first Covid-19 lockdown.
There were also examples highlighted of “extremely offensive comments and grossly inappropriate material” shared within private WhatsApp groups and on social media.
“These include, for example, sexually explicit images, images of graphic violence, and sexist comments,” the report found.
“The service tolerates the use of Instagram and OnlyFans by its firefighters to post sexualised images of themselves alongside images that make clear their membership of the service.
“Some of these sexualised images show the member of the service partially dressed in their uniform.
“The service’s response to this misconduct has been confused, and damaging to trust and confidence within and outside the service.”
The report heard “pictures of genitals” were sent to women within the service and that “inappropriate advances” were made towards women.
It found that a now retired firefighter at the service’s Cardiff central station had refused to speak to or acknowledge women.
The fire service also refused to publish a photograph of its firefighters taking the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the report said.
“It was said that posting such photos might compromise relationships with the chief fire officer, the service and the police given that the origins of the movement was associated with police brutality.”
Examples of racism were cited, including racist abuse at a Chinese restaurant and urinating on the floor.
“Making casually racist ‘jokes’ or comments fuels prejudice and discrimination even if that is not the intention,” the report said.
In an open letter, Mr Jakeway said: “For those who have had negative experiences of the service, I am profoundly sorry.
“There is no place for inappropriate behaviour within South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
“I have had the privilege of serving as the chief fire officer for over 12 years, where I have been entrusted to lead our service through many challenges and changes, such as austerity, a global public health pandemic, personal tragedy and significant emergency incidents that have tested us.
“I have always led with mutual respect, inclusivity, pride and passion.
“Now is time for a change in leadership and yesterday I informed the fire authority of my intention to retire.
“The appointment process for the next chief fire officer will not detract from or delay the work to address the recommendations.
“The next chief fire officer will have an opportunity to set their vision for the service and a long-term plan to address the recommendations and findings of the independent culture review.”
Joyce Watson MS for Mid and west Wales), who has taken a leading role in campaigns to tackle violence against women in Wales, said: “I am deeply disappointed by the failures identified within this report.
“I have worked with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service for many years as part of the White Ribbon campaign to tackle violence against women.
“This is yet another example of organisations not having adequate training and structures to protect people from sexual abuse and exploitation in their workplace.
“There have been too many examples – from police forces, the WRU, to the NHS – where staff and members of the public have been endangered by complacent and unsafe cultures.
“All large bodies need to look at their procedures to tackle abuse. And anyone found guilty should be sacked, not moved to continue their behaviour elsewhere within organisations.
“Emergency services operate through public trust – they visit people in their homes – so change needs to be both real and evident. These failings let down all the good men in the service who would never dream of acting in this way, as suspicion falls on the whole body.
“This should never happen again.”
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