Grenfell Tower fire: Response must be ‘national emergency’, say survivors

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Media captionWhat do survivors and bereaved families want from the inquiry?

A survivors’ group has welcomed a report on the Grenfell Tower fire, calling for the government to treat its response as “a national emergency”.

The report, published on Wednesday, followed the first phase of an inquiry, looking at what happened on the night of 14 June 2017, when 72 people died.

It was critical of the London Fire Brigade’s response and said the tower did not meet building regulations.

The LFB said it was “disappointed” by some of the criticism of individuals.

Campaign group Grenfell United said the report showed “the immediate and real dangers” of “highly combustible cladding and insulation”.

“Lives are at risk and the government need to treat this as a national emergency,” the group said.

The report made 46 recommendations, including improvements in training for fire brigade staff and the development of national guidelines for evacuating high-rise buildings.

Grenfell United called for the recommendations to be implemented in full, saying they would save lives.

The report condemned the LFB for “serious shortcomings” and systemic failures in its response to the fire.

Inquiry chairman 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.

Grenfell United responded: “It is heartbreaking to read that more of our loved ones could have been saved that night if the building was evacuated earlier.”

At an emotional press conference, relatives of 20 victims of the fire called for an overhaul of the LFB, saying its leadership should resign and even face prosecution.

Nazanin Aghlani, who lost two family members in the fire, said some firefighters displayed a “serious lack of common sense” and failed to see “what was so vivid in front of them”.

“If a fire happened tonight the same thing would happen again,” she said.

‘Too little too late’

The report said evidence from London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton that she would not have changed anything about the brigade’s response was “insensitive”.

Ms Cotton said many of the recommendations were welcome and would be “carefully considered”.

She expressed her “deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire”.

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Media captionLondon Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton: “We are truly sorry we couldn’t save everyone’s life that night”

She added: “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.”

However, Natasha Elcock, chairwoman of Grenfell United who was rescued with her six-year-old daughter from the 11th floor, said Dany Cotton’s statement was “too little too late”.

“She stood up in the inquiry, in a room full of bereaved and survivors and said there’s nothing she would do to change that night,” she told the BBC.

“If she’d expressed that sorrow that day in that room, that potentially would have washed with us today.”

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Image caption

White doves were released at a memorial service earlier this year to mark two years since the tragedy

Grenfell United expressed concern at the report’s finding that the LFB were “at risk of not learning the lessons from Grenfell”, adding that firefighters were “let down by their training, procedures, equipment and leadership”.

Other issues highlighted in the report included:

  • A lack of training in how to “recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one”
  • Incident commanders “of relatively junior rank” being unable to change strategy
  • Control room officers lacking training on when to advise callers to evacuate
  • An assumption that crews would reach callers, resulting in “assurances which were not well founded”
  • Communication between the control room and those on the ground being “improvised, uncertain and prone to error”
  • A lack of an organised way to share information within the control room, meaning officers had “no overall picture of the speed or pattern of fire spread”

In the House of Commons, MPs held a minutes’ silence to remember victims of the fire, before a debate on the inquiry.

Boris Johnson told MPs that survivors and the bereaved had been “overlooked and ignored” before the fire and “shamefully failed” afterwards.

The second phase of the inquiry will focus on wider circumstances of the fire, including the design of the building.

While this was not the focus of the first phase, the report found there was “compelling evidence” external walls of the building failed to comply with building regulations and “actively promoted” the spread of fire.

It 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”.

Grenfell United said the second phase of the inquiry “must now focus on where responsibility for the devastating refurbishment [of the building] lies”, with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the tenant management organisation and the companies involved facing “serious questions”.

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