Grenfell groups welcome report on ‘gravely inadequate’ fire brigade preparation
Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have welcomed a damning report that said London Fire Brigade (LFB) breached national guidelines through “gravely inadequate” preparation.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the absence of a plan to evacuate the tower was a “major omission” by the LFB and more lives could have been saved had the “stay-put” policy been abandoned sooner.
There was also an absence of training to help incident commanders recognise when this might be necessary, the inquiry judge said.
Bereaved family members said it was “heartbreaking” that more of their loved ones could have been saved, but some organisations questioned inquiry chairman Sir Martin’s assertion that evacuation would have been possible.
Some of his 46 recommendations require “urgent action” from the Government and others with responsibility for the “oversight and direction” of the emergency services, he said in a letter to the Prime Minister.
One of the groups representing bereaved and survivors, Grenfell United, welcomed the “strong” findings which “give us some confidence that our journey towards truth has finally begun”.
LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton said many recommendations were welcome and would be “carefully and fully” considered by senior officers.
She said: “The report is focused on our response and it is right for our actions to be fully examined by the inquiry.
“We welcome the chairman’s recognition of the courage, commitment and bravery of firefighters on the night, but we are disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said there was “no way of knowing if evacuation could have saved more lives”.
He said: “We strongly refute the report’s assertion that it would have been possible or safe to evacuate more than 150 people via a narrow, smoke-logged stairwell with just 30 firefighters.
“There is no evidence to suggest that this was possible.”
The report also accused Ms Cotton of “remarkable insensitivity” after she said she would not have done anything differently on the night.
Ms Cotton told the inquiry that preparing for Grenfell would have been akin to preparing for landing a spaceship on the Shard.
But Sir Martin said her evidence “only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire”.
He said in a pre-recorded video message: “I consider that these represent significant systemic failings in the organisation or the LFB and show that it had failed to learn the lessons of the Lakanal House fire; but at the same time I find that, following the refurbishment, the external walls of the building did not comply with the Building Regulations because they did not adequately resist the spread of fire over them. On the contrary, they promoted it.”
Six people died in the Lakanal House fire in 2009.
Grenfell United said senior firefighters had failed to learn the lessons from the blaze and called on them to “stop hiding behind the bravery of their frontline firefighters”.
The group said: “While nothing can ever bring back our loved ones that passed away in the fire, this is a strong report with a forensic examination of the events of the night and clear recommendations that if implemented will save lives. The Government cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of Lakanal and ignore them.
“Justice means different things for all of us but the truth needs to be at the heart of our collective healing.
“We have been waiting a long time for this report.
“Today’s findings give us some confidence that our journey towards truth has finally begun.
“We now need to urgently see responsibility and action from this report, not excuses.”
A separate group, Justice 4 Grenfell, said some of the recommendations could have been made earlier, and that they feared those most accountable may be let “off the hook”.
A spokeswoman said: “If the Inquiry had begun with Act 1 scene 1, the chairman’s recommendations would have looked starkly different and the real ‘villains of the piece’ would have been in the headlines, rather than the firefighters who risked their own lives in a building that no-one should have been living in.”
In his report, Sir Martin said the principal reason the flames shot up the building so fiercely was the combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with polyethylene cores which acted as a “source of fuel”.
The report also concluded that the fire, in which 72 people died, started as the result of an “electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer” in a fourth-floor flat.
The judge said there was “compelling evidence” that the external walls did not comply with building regulations.
Grenfell United said it was Sir Martin’s “most important conclusion” and raises serious questions for those involved in the refurbishment of the block.
They said: “This finding adds to our determination to see criminal charges brought against those responsible for turning our homes into a ‘death trap’.”
Sir Martin also criticised the London Fire Brigade for its “stay-put” strategy when residents were told to remain in their flats by firefighters and 999 operators for nearly two hours after the blaze broke out just before 1am.
The strategy was rescinded at 2.47am.
Sir Martin said: “That decision could and should have been made between 1.30am and 1.50am and would be likely to have resulted in fewer fatalities.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Rick Findler / PA Wire.