Fire fighter killed himself after being racially 'singled out' at Wembley fire station
- Credit: PA
The family of a firefighter who took his own life believe he was being bullied and racially discriminated against at the Wembley station where he was based, an inquest has heard.
Jaden Francois-Esprit was found hanged at his home in Wapping on August 26 2020, three weeks after his 21st birthday.
His mother, Linda Francois, told an inquest at Poplar Coroner’s Court on Tuesday (February 9) that her son was being “unfavourably singled out because he’s an ethnic minority” at Wembley fire station, where he was training with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) as part of the “green watch”.
In a statement read out in court, Ms Francois said she felt he was being "singled out" for being young and "the only person of colour" at Wembley station.
She described one occasion where he did not want her to bring him home-cooked Caribbean food as he "felt uncomfortable" talking about it to colleagues.
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She said her son would talk about being treated unfairly and being made to carry out tasks that were not assigned to him.
"He hated working at Wembley and accused his crew manager of bullying him," Ms Francois said.
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"As a family we believe Jaden had every intention to go to work on August 26, he prepared his uniform.
"Perhaps the thought of sticking it out for another eight months was unbearable. I don't think he knew calling in sick was an option.
"The anxiety got too much and he couldn't face going back, even for one more day."
Jaden's sister Kelela Francois-Esprit said she arranged to meet him for dinner on August 20, six days before he died.
In her statement she said: "When I left Jaden, I was aware he was not happy at work, but I had no idea he was depressed."
While reading through the family statements, senior coroner Mary Hassell said: "I feel very strongly the sense of isolation he felt."
Giving live evidence by video link, Daniel Johnson, LFB’s station commander at Wembley, said most of his interactions with Jadan were in passing, but that he spoke to him during his nine-month probation meeting at the end of July.
Mr Johnson said: “He was exactly where I expected him to be, he was doing well from what I have seen.
“He said everything was fine, he’s quite a quiet-spoken guy, very polite, smiling a lot.”
He told the inquest that he knew Jaden's stepfather, David Reid, as they worked together at LFB for 10 to 15 years.
He said Mr Reid called him with concerns about his stepson's progress and his dyslexia which Mr Johnson then raised with the watch managers at the time .
He told the court: “I was content that they would be more than able to deal with what we discussed.”
When he spoke to Mr Reid on August 18 he assured him of what he had done and that Jaden was "progressing well."
Mr Johnson said he had "have never heard of any incidents of him being picked on, bullied or singled out".
“Everything I’d seen gave me the indication that the watch is well run and well managed and bonds well together.”
When asked whether he was aware Jaden had submitted a learning support application, Mr Johnson replied: “No I was not.”
The inquest heard the Wembley green watch had about 22 members at the time and Jaden was the youngest fireman.
Ben Robinson, a fireman on the Wembley green watch, told the court there were three other black men on the watch.
He said he'd previously been the newest recruit, adding: "The majority of the time it would be me and Jaden being asked to do things.”
When asked whether he saw any signs of bullying, including comments about his food, he said: “One hundred per cent no.
“He was never excluded, he was 100 per cent part of the team.”
Mr Francois-Esprit's cause of death was recorded as suspension.
His family have set up a fundraiser in his memory to help raise money to start a charity to help prevent suicide and depression.
The inquest continues.