Fire brigade faces police inquiry over Grenfell 'stay put' order

Detectives investigate whether advice as tower block blazed broke health and safety law

London fire brigade and its senior officers are facing a police investigation over the “stay put” policy that resulted in Grenfell Tower residents being told to remain inside their homes as the tower block blazed, according to Scotland Yard.

Detectives are attempting to establish whether the order could have breached health and safety law.

Det Supt Matt Bonner, who is leading the police investigation, said 36 companies and organisations that had been involved in the construction, refurbishment, maintenance and management of the building were now of particular interest.

So far, two organisations – the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation – are known to be under investigation as corporate manslaughter suspects.

Asked whether senior officers could be charged with manslaughter for not telling people to leave, Bonner said a prosecution could most likely fall under health and safety legislation.

He said: “The LFB would, as any other organisation involved, have an obligation to conduct their activity in a manner that doesn’t place people at risk. It doesn’t mean that at the moment they have or they haven’t, but that’s where the legislation is most likely to arise if that was an eventuality.”

The inquiry into the fire, which happened last June, was told earlier on Thursday that fire commanders overseeing the response to the blaze had “no obvious and safe alternative strategy” other than telling residents to stay put.

On the final day of opening statements at the inquiry, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) also said both commanders and firefighters were left in an “impossible situation”.

The refurbishment of the building had resulted in material being installed that made it a “highly combustible death trap”, which the brigade lacked training and procedures to tackle, the union said.

In a statement to the inquiry, the LFB said its personnel were placed in “intolerable positions” during the fire, and would have been unaware of any defects caused by refurbishment of the 24-storey block.

Louis Browne QC, counsel for the Fire Officers’ Association, said: “Simultaneous evacuation of residents in the event of fire is not factored into the design of buildings such as Grenfell Tower. That is evident from the fact that there is no common fire alarm and the only means of escape was a single stairwell. The stay-put policy is therefore a building design principle and is not a creation of the fire service.”

Police have interviewed 579 firefighters and control room staff, and have a further 250 to see. They have also interviewed all adult survivors and collected more than 11,000 exhibits. The building is no longer being examined by forensic scientists, but remains a potential crime scene.

The details of the police investigation came as a separate Scotland Yard inquiry led to the arrests of nine people over alleged fraud.

The suspects are alleged to have obtained money and services ranging from £25,000 to £100,000 after claiming to be survivors of the fire.

The eight men and one woman were arrested in a series of dawn raids on Thursday, the Met said.

Police believe two of the individuals are linked but said all of the alleged offences were separate. Some of those arrested were living in hotels when they were detained.

Shahin Sadafi, the chair of survivors’ group Grenfell United, said it was “hurtful and saddening” that people could take advantage of the tragedy.

“It is not just that they have taken funds and charity that was not for them, it is disrespectful to the real victims of the fire and people who lost their lives,” he said.

“Our community has shown strength, determination and dignity throughout the last year. Grenfell Tower was a community of good decent people, and we were proud to be each others’ neighbours.

“These people have absolutely no place here. We are relieved they have been identified and rooted out.”


Ian Cobain , Ben Quinn and Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

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