Friday 15 November 2019

Survivors welcome damning report into Grenfell fire plan

Tragedy: Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with the blaze in the Grenfell Tower apartment block. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville/File Photo
Tragedy: Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with the blaze in the Grenfell Tower apartment block. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville/File Photo

Jemma Crew

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have welcomed a damning report that said London Fire Brigade (LFB) breached national guidelines through "gravely inadequate" preparation.

Inquiry chairman 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.

Seventy-two people died in the fire, and bereaved family members said it was "heartbreaking" that more of their loved ones could have been saved, but some organisations questioned Mr Moore-Bick'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.

"The report is focused on our response and it is right for our actions to be fully examined by the inquiry," she said.

"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".

"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," he said.

"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 Mr Moore-Bick 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 London 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".

"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," the group said.

"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."

Irish Independent

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